Fatigue with pandemic restrictions has hit many Americans at a time when it is more important than ever that people take the virus seriously and stay home.
While the US is grappling with a huge increase in record cases and hospitalizations, federal inaction has forced local officials to adopt their own rules and messages, creating a patchwork of confusing regulations that differ across the country and are constantly changing. Center suggest Americans are exhausted.
The Guardian spoke with experts in psychology, public health, and communications for advice on how to convince tired or misinformed loved ones to stay safe as we head into a deadly holiday season. The interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
How can we explain why it is especially important for people to stay home now?
Dr. Seema Yasmin, director of the Stanford Health Communication Initiative, says it’s helpful to convey that the risk of dying right now from Covid is increasing because US hospitals are already full of patients: “We’re talking about the entire country some consider it to be a hotspot. There are 25 states facing a critical shortage of nurses, doctors and other staff. That means you really don’t want to get Covid-19 right now. Chances of getting good treatment or a bed hospital are much lower than at the beginning of the year.
“We have tried to share some hopeful messages: that the probability of dying from Covid-19 in the US had decreased, because we have learned how to treat patients,” he adds. “But all of that is lost if you can’t put people in a hospital bed.”
How to convince people to take Covid seriously when they are out of stock after eight months?
“People should talk about why they we’ve made the decision to stay home, wear a mask, and distance ourselves socially, “says Emma Frances Bloomfield, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and an expert on scientific disinformation. “Frame it as a profit: ‘This is what am doing, and that’s why I’m doing it ‘, rather than at a loss:’ You’re not doing these things and you’re wrong for not doing them.
“And be a model, a model with a mask, participating in Zoom. Explain that people are dying and that you are concerned that your friends and family in common will get sick. You can say, ‘I want all of my family members to be here next Thanksgiving when we can have it in person.’
What do you say to parents and grandparents desperate to reunite after so long apart?
Bloomfield: “I see it as running a race. It does not matter if in the first three quarters of the race you have done everything perfectly and are in the lead. If you screw up the last stretch right at the finish line, you are not going to win. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was so much uncertainty that we had no idea how long it was going to last. But now, vaccines are on the horizon. There is a finish line. So we have to continue a bit longer, and then we will have all the activities in person and travel back soon. “
Yasmin: “It may help to recognize that this sucks and is terrible. Acknowledge that Covid fatigue is real, that we shouldn’t be in this mess, that we shouldn’t have lockdowns in November, and that this is happening due to government failures. So I point to other countries that have handled this better and show us how things could be different, and can still be different as of January 20, when we have a new president. On a personal level, this is how I remind myself that we will get out of this, because eventually we will have seniors in charge. And there are models and best practices that end with streaming. Look at New Zealand, Taiwan or Vietnam. I point to a photo of people from New Zealand in May at the farmers market, hugging. We will get out of this. “
How do you respond to people who think they have been very careful and that a Thanksgiving gathering will not make a difference?
Celeste Kidd, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, says it’s helpful to clarify the potential domino effects of individual choices: “Older people tend to consider only risks to themselves. But it is important to emphasize that risks are shared. Perhaps you are personally willing to risk death. But if you see grandchildren attending daycare or school, the contact could cause the children to transmit Covid to others there, such as teachers. Point out that small indoor gatherings are a major source of transmission and that hosting one involves many other people in addition to those who attend. Also, for grandparents willing to take the risk of infection from their grandchildren, point out how horrible the grandchildren would feel if that happened.
“It is also worth noting that due to systemic inequities, some people are forced to take more risks than they should at work in order to maintain their health insurance or have a roof over their head. Sometimes they think: ‘I take more risks in my work and it would be less risky to see my grandchildren.’ In that case, it helps to remind people that this is not how risk works. Every exposure opportunity you are adding increases your risk. “
How do you influence the people in your life who are more skeptical that the virus is a serious threat?
Bloomfield: “Find common authorities. If the person who is skeptical belongs to a certain political party or a certain faith or belongs to a certain community, it is possible that you will find common authorities that you trust who can provide them with information, if they are not going to hear it directly from you. . That can help your argument. And start a dialogue. Don’t be condescending or condescending, don’t treat them like an inferior. “
Yasmin: “It helps to take a breath and step back from these difficult conversations and restart. You don’t want to get angry or frustrated with someone. You don’t want them to feel upset. Research also shows that when there is a particularly polarized conversation, adding facts, evidence, and data is like spraying kerosene on a fire. It doesn’t help. Instead, it’s good to start with a talking point that addresses more of the common ground that you share. We are both worried about Aunt Khadija who has asthma. And from there we came to a point of agreement that not traveling could be a really good thing for Aunt Khadija, that it could protect her. “
What about the people in your life who believe in conspiracy theories or misinformation?
Bloomfield “Concrete these abstract statistics of hundreds of thousands of deaths with examples and personal stories, especially of people who contracted Covid and died when they had previously thought it was a hoax. Make it more personal. People who accept misinformation are often found in these echo chambers. Encourage them to read media outside of their current media environment. Business resources can be helpful – send me an article and I’ll send you one. Part of what makes misinformation so persuasive is that it comes first and there is anchor bias. So anything you can do to repeat information and share resources early and frequently, you can work to combat some of the misinformation they have already had. “
Kidd points out that helping people change their behavior, not their core beliefs, is the most important thing: “Don’t be too quick to attack people. Ask people where they come from, show genuine interest, and listen. Believing that Covid is a hoax is not inherently a public policy or a health risk. But refusing to wear a mask is. The real problem is the behavior that arises from their pseudoscientific beliefs. “
Any new steps you are personally taking now to deal with fatigue while the risks are so great?
Kidd: “As human beings, we need change, we need variety. I tried one of those subscription snack boxes where you don’t know what you’re going to get. We have rediscovered pen palling. With my three-year-old son, we made a list of all the things we can do now that we normally wouldn’t have done and that we would have had time to do. He was very interested in anatomy, so we did a frog dissection. You can order them prepared for your home. “
Bloomfield: “Some of the things in person that I miss the most are traditions, like going to a good restaurant to celebrate something nice that happened. Instead, we do a cooking night at home. Some restaurants have a home cooking kit. So we recreated that tradition. My family does a weekly Zoom and catches up, somehow we talk more than before about Covid. “
Yasmin: “I’m in the Bay Area and have essentially been in lockdown mode since March. We’re really not going to do anything different. In the first few months, I was very diligent about walking into a grocery store only once every two weeks. Now I slide and go further. So now I’m doing a reboot and being more diligent because things are a lot worse now. “
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