We keep hearing about COVID fatigue, but I think there’s a more serious problem, what I’ll call COVID frustration (and, no, not that kind of frustration…). Shannon Palus gets to the heart of it (boldface mine):
It made me feel something that I’ve been feeling for a while, as a journalist who has been tasked with interpreting and explaining so many things about the pandemic to my readers: The wrong people are heeding the calls for more caution.
I have spent a lot of time urging caution this year, based on the advice of public health experts who are also urging caution. “You should take precautions that might feel a bit outlandish,” I wrote a year ago, now, in a piece titled “Don’t Panic About the Coronavirus. Act.” Over the course of the year, those precautions have gone from working from home to choosing the right personal protective equipment to still being careful about traveling even if you’ve gotten the vaccine. Over these sad, hard months, I’ve watched so many people give up so much in the interest of everyone’s safety…
And I have come to suspect that some percentage of the population is adhering so intensely to the public health advice that they are about 90 percent of the way toward perfection—and they’re putting themselves through a ton of stress to get that last 10 percent. On the other hand, another set of the population is … doing quite a bit less, and not really worrying over the parts they aren’t doing. These are the people who would benefit from doing a little (or much) more, and they’re also the ones that don’t seem to be listening. Instead, they’re having weddings, jet-setting, burning masks. I could not imagine, for example, what the lady at the Florida Dunkin’ Donuts [who wasn’t wearing a mask] would think about my very earnest explainer on how and why to wear two masks. I did not ask—talking produces aerosols!—but I am confident she is not a reader.
At this point in the pandemic—and for a long time during this pandemic, honestly—it seems like some portion of the country is going full-force against public health guidance and another portion is staying very, very cautious, even at the cost of a lot of energy and mental health…
We evaluate public health advice as individuals or small pods when, in order for it to really work, we’d have to act on it collectively. Being evermore careful, masked-up, and isolated surely feels morally correct. It might be soothing, and it is also likely to keep you safer. But without cooperation, it will never be enough.
Like a t-shirt I recently saw said, “When this is all done, I’m still not going to want to be around some of you.” There has been too much bad behavior. And since many people will survive their stupidity–though not all–there really isn’t an individual-level incentive for better behavior either.