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I really hate posting this stuff. I can think of countless other topics I would prefer. I’ve drained my tank of political diatribe. That ship sailed out of my emotional dock many months ago when I decided it was healthier to take a breath and envision the next election which is closer in sight now. 

So much for that plan.

The Covid virus situation has now supplanted my short lived peace of mind and once again made it difficult to contain my stress because of other people’s behavior. Again, I am challenged to channel myself away from it all, but this time, its harder.

Its harder, because, unlike confrontational political creatures who we can physically distance ourselves from, we can only distance ourselves so much from the behavior of people flouting social distancing guidelines in a pandemic. The inconvenient truth is that flouters of social distance guidelines affect our public health risk. In a big way. In a (Knock! Knock! Hello! Is anyone home??) PANDEMIC kind of way. 

What’s really disturbing to me is how people around me in my own community, and circles, and clearly too many other parts of this country, seem to think there is a straight line from deciding, or not deciding, to observe social distance guidelines. Their rationale appears to be, if I don’t want to relax my own social guidelines, then I don’t have to be around those who are willing to relax them, and I should not be lecturing, or spoiling anybody else’s fun.

I don’t recall seeing “teacher” show up on the career compatibility test I took when I was twenty-one, but I am called upon to play that role now.

Today’s lesson begins and ends with the simple formula of how a pandemic starts…

Person #1 observes social distancing tightly, controlling contact outside their household to essential purposes.

Person #2 observes social distancing loosely, interacting in social gatherings beyond household members.

Person #2 contracts the Covid-19 virus from the social gatherings.

Person #2 then comes in contact later with Person #1.

Person #1, who practiced tighter social distancing than Person #2, is now exposed to the same Covid-19 virus because of Person #2.

All of this potentially takes place in a single day or two with no one knowing it because the symptoms take 1-2 weeks to appear, which then allow both Persons #1, and #2, to unknowingly transmit the virus to someone else. The rate of transmission is reported to be 3 to 1. Do the math. Presto! Pandemic!

If the above crash course lesson doesn’t explain why someone else’s behavior is completely relevant to mine, and exponentially, everyone else, who is trying to hold the fort here, then I can’t help you any further. You may think social distancers like me are spoiling your fun, but if this trend below plays out further, you will be the ones spoiling it for everybody. 


From ABC News:

Why People are Flouting Coronavirus Social Distancing Precautions That We Know Save Lives

Experts say factors like risk aversion play a heavy role.

People packed into a pool at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.Parks in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak, jammed with sunbathers.A crowded brunch spot in Colorado with diners celebrating Mother’s Day.With more than 100,000 Americans dead and rising from the novel coronavirus, health experts and other leaders have been pleading for people to adhere to their strict guidelines to keep people safe.But all too recently, these and other examples, large and small, have emerged of people blatantly defying social distancing and face-covering rules.

Psychology experts said they haven’t been surprised by this type of behavior, since it’s been a long-standing issue with public health: the ability for people to assess risk. Rajita Sinha, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University and the founding director of the Yale Stress Center, said the uncertainty about when the pandemic will end, access to information and one’s underlying beliefs can influence someone to flout precautions.

“Those features of the current pandemic really put into gear people’s need for control which is an important aspect of coping,” she told ABC News. “Gaining control is a basic way we cope.”

Sinha and other health experts say there is no easy solution to the problem, but there are ways to help those individuals see the need for health precautions.

She noted that risk is a very abstract concept to people. While some people may look at the COVID-related news and feel fear from the images of sick patients, others may want to take their chances, Sinha said.

“If you’re in a bad scenario where there is a lot of danger…if you worried you may not be able to get yourself out, there is a mechanism where we just plow along,” she said.

Joshua Ackerman, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who has studied behaviors related to infectious diseases, said individualism also plays a part in adhering to guidelines.

“If people think masks are self-protection and you don’t think you’ll need protection, you won’t wear them,” he told ABC News.

Sten Vermund, the dean of Yale School of Public Health, likened the behavior to running a red light.

“They don’t perceive enough personal risk and they don’t have a sense of altruism that is acute,” he told ABC News.

Attitudes on masks and social distancing are mixed in the U.S., according to polling from ABC News and Ipsos. At the end of April, a large majority of the country (82%) were concerned about coronavirus and just 14% thought stay-at-home orders restricted personal liberty. Earlier in April, an ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 55% of Americans had worn a mask in the last week.

While guidance on social distancing has largely been consistent and long-standing — staying 6 feet away from others to prevent the transmission of respiratory droplets, avoiding large gatherings and staying home — wearing a mask has been has been much murkier. Public health officials initially suggested that people not wear masks and instead reserve them for health workers, but on April 3, they recommended that people wear cloth masks in public to prevent asymptomatic transmission.

That message has been further confused by President Trump generally refusing to wear a mask, despite the CDC recommendation.

Information, particularly that which is circulating in one’s immediate circle, is an important factor for people’s behavior’s during the pandemic, according to Ackerman. Even though the U.S. leads the world with over 1.7 million cases, there are whole counties, particularly in rural communities, where there are few or no cases. The pandemic looks very different in those places compared to hotspots such as New York City.

Ackerman said the lack of centralized and consistent health-related messaging from local, state and federal leaders and the polarization of news sources will lead people to make different choices.

“People listen to information and they use that to calculate their own risk. In situations like this, sometimes the accuracy of the information is far less important to the availability of that information,” he said.

Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.

Sinha said that the sometimes lax response to COVID can be amplified where others act similarly for the same reasons. She pointed out the examples of rallies and other demonstrations of people who have expressed frustration with the rise in unemployment and the loss of other social norms.

“They’re worried about work and unemployment and other stressors affecting them and family. They’re not paying attention to everything else,” Sinha said. Many protesters at reopening rallies around the country have, however, worn masks.

Vermund said there are also Americans who don’t have direct connections with the people most vulnerable to COVID, like the elderly or immunocompromised, so it may take longer for them to grasp the need for precautions. Although the true number of infected is unknown, just a fraction of the country has had confirmed COVID cases and a vast number of those have been concentrated in the urban Northeast.

“We lived through this during the HIV era,” he explained. “During the early years, 1981, 1982, people were not changing their behaviors because they weren’t so close to people who got ill. By 1985, the pandemic was so striking and so many people got to know people who got ill and died, that behaviors started to change.”

Ackerman said there will likely be increasing cases of people not adhering to social distancing and face-covering precautions as states being to reopen their economies. He noted the psychological notion of “goal completion” — in this case, the sense that the pandemic may be over because life appears to be returning to normal — may give some people a false sense of security.

“If we think about the information provided to people…one of the goals given was that we have to flatten the curve. To the extent that people think that the curve has been flattened, they might think the worst is behind them,” he said.

He and other health experts, however, said the public can still turn things around and increase compliance with social distancing rules. Sinha said people are more prone to comply with health orders if they have a clear understanding of how it affects the people around them.

Even if it is just one person articulating to a friend or family member that the face masks and distracting practices help the greater good, it could get them to change their minds and pass it on, according to Sinha.

“There is no reason it can’t be done if you can build a narrative around it. If you articulate the full narrative that we are shifting gears and preparing for the next phase, some people will listen,” she said.