The Risks of the Pandemic Denial Syndrome

Pandemic Denial BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of salud-america.org

Like it or not, there’s something about human nature that always looks to the bright side — no matter how dark things get. This survival instinct — or denial — may be prolonging a virus that lives on just that: Our cheery and careless behavior.  

The current scenario is like something out of a horror film since COVID-19 thrives on us humans having all too “human moments” — forgetting about wearing our mask or social distancing correctly. The truth is too many of us are at risk of getting it and possibly dying from it, whether young or old. 

Despite the news reports and rising numbers, call it what you will, some deep denial and skepticism are happening in the zeitgeist. If you are open-minded, you can relate to the naysayers, no one wants a lockdown, and no one wants to feel unable to see loved ones. Nobody wants to be the party pooper or have to listen to their advice either. 

In turn, when strict measures are taken by governments such as in Australia and Italy, the numbers of COVID-19 cases shoot down, and countries like these will reach normality sooner than others. Sadly, the United States reached the worst stage of the pandemic to date due to the results of holiday gatherings still spreading. 

We can only blame those who don’t believe in the power of this pandemic and who have acted irresponsibly. On the other hand, we can blame what they may be suffering from psychologically, the condition known as availability heuristic or availability bias.

Everyone has a bit of “availability bias,” hence this continuous pandemic

This behavioral tendency of not beveling there is a pandemic and acting irresponsibly is what psychologists refer to as “availability biases.”  It’s what plagues otherwise reasonable people, who aren’t crazy, but experience indifference to something that simply hasn’t hit home yet. Since they, or no one they know, has contracted or died of COVID-19, it is not a concern to them at this time. 

An article in Very Well Mind describes this mental tendency like this: 

“When it comes to making this type of judgment about relative risk or danger, our brains rely on a number of different strategies to make quick decisions. This illustrates what is known as the availability heuristic, a mental shortcut that helps you make fast but sometimes incorrect, assessments. There are all kinds of mental shortcuts, but a common one involves relying on information that comes to mind quickly. This is known as “availability.” If you can quickly think of multiple examples of something happening—such as police shootings—you will believe that it is more common.” 

In many rural parts of the United States and the rest of the world, people have no direct experience with coronavirus. This allows a natural tendency to the denial syndrome and to not give importance to what isn’t affecting them directly.

This behavior is often compared to the fact that we hear about fatal car accidents but continue driving despite these alarming statistics. But, when we are on the highway and see a serious accident off to the side of the road, we will naturally slow down and be more cautious from then on. This is because direct observation feels real, but unfortunately, the statistics we hear and read about COVID-19 in the media do not. 

Too many of us may think that lockdowns and curfews interfere with our freedom.  After all, we may think, “Hey, we aren’t sick, and I don’t know anybody who is. So why should I be denied the opportunity to go to work, go on a date, or visit family and friends?” Because this virus is all about potluck: You never know where it’s going to strike you. 

Denial, forget, and then party: This virus’ vicious cycle

Anticipating last weekend’s potential for apocalyptic partying due to the Super Bowl, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, urged Americans to stay away from large Super Bowl parties and to “just lay low and cool it.” 

This is wise advice given that Arizona now has the highest rate in the country with 69 out of every 100 000 residents hospitalized with COVID-19 and where cities like Los Angeles are running out of oxygen for patients as hospitalizations hit record highs nationwide, as reported by the Washington Post. 

No one wants another dangerous surge of infections like the holidays brought on. Medical experts blame this resurgence on the back-to-back timing of Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. This contagion catastrophe had to do with how the virus is thought to be spread, which is still confusing. 

How many stories have we heard of people living in the same house, one person gets infected, and the others remain negative? Since many who catch COVID-19 develop symptoms roughly five to seven days after infection and are most contagious during the 48 hours before those symptoms appear, that two-week holiday stretch was chaos-causing. That means if you were exposed to the virus on Christmas day, you could have been contagious by the time you attended a New Year’s Eve party or the week after.

Spain numbers are getting as bad as the United States’

I am currently based in Madrid, and numbers are also rising again like in the U.S. Underground parties in bars and homes until dawn is in fashion now since we’ve had a nationwide curfew between 10 pm and 6 am for months now. Just this past weekend in Madrid alone, there were 246 illegal parties, according to El País. 

Just last week, I was tested again for COVID-19, and luckily it came back negative. But though I may have relaxed a bit in my worry about the virus (nobody in my immediate circle had it), I will proceed with caution because three people I know in Madrid have already contracted COVID-19 during the first week of February alone.  

Like everyone else on the planet, practically every week, I have Zoom calls with people who live in Spain, France, Colombia, or the United States, who are teleworking. It’s interesting to talk to people from different parts of the world, who can share their experiences with the virus and what measures they have taken according to where they live. 

Many of the people I speak to have family members who were infected or have spent weeks in bed themselves, unable to move. Many have not waited for their government’s mandates and have created their own laws within their families to not see one another until this is over for fear of infecting their elders. They are using their common sense.

We have to fight denial and wake up because there are young and older people dying and that most hospitals are collapsing worldwide. This is why I find it so confusing when I speak to people who deny the severity of the crisis or who are just so absorbed in their personal ambitions, they can’t be distracted by an invisible enemy such as COVID-19. 

Now I know they probably have a case of “availability bias.” 

Let’s remember that this pandemic we live in is real and lurking closer to you than you think. Maybe, just maybe, if we all do this, we can look forward to being back to “normal” come the summer. If we don’t, well, then we will be at this for who knows how much longer.