“The risk is real, so let’s put on the record right now that this is a concern,” speaking of the coronavirus — aka COVID-19 — and again quoting David Ropeik, an expert on risk perception and communication. “The challenge is keeping your worry in perspective.”
Why does the coronavirus scare us?
It’s new. Says Ropeik, “When something is new, we don’t know all of what we need to know to protect ourselves, and that feels like powerlessness. And that’s what makes it scary.” “New” and knowledge are often incompatible; the complete clinical perspective is unknown to experts at this time.
It feels out of our control — referencing that powerlessness. There’s no shot, vaccine, nor seemingly full-proof preventive measure. Washing our hands continues to be the most encouraged deterrent, but that doesn’t feel targeted enough.
It’s spreading. First reported in late December in Wuhan, an eastern Chinese city with a population of approximately 11 million people, it has since spread to Europe and now to the US. American cases were initially reported on the West Coast, but as of March 6th, two deaths were reported in Florida. More than 330 cases in the U.S. have been confirmed, with 17 fatalities, and the numbers increasing.
Should it scare us? In other words, do the facts support the fear?
Let me first say it is no one’s prerogative to tell another that they have no valid reason to fear; we are often too quick — and not always empathetic and sometimes a little arrogant, truthfully — to tell another they have no reason to be afraid. We don’t know their life experience; we don’t know their history; so that said, let’s be clear about the facts.
According to the World Health Organization, “COVID-19 is still affecting mostly people in China with some outbreaks in other countries. Most people who become infected experience mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for others.”
The elderly, special needs, and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk. Still the mortality rate from the virus is currently estimated to be approximately 3%. The flu mortality rate is considered to be approximately 0.1%. Hence, the chance of death is low, but compared to the flu, it is notably higher. Comparison makes a difference.
What perpetuates the fear?
Call it just me, but the Intramuralist really has little trust in most media. Don’t get me started on those rote “fake news” chants; the reality is the media has an agenda; politicians have an agenda. With the media so intertwined with politicians in 21st Century America, we can’t always discern exactly what the agenda is, as it’s hard to tell what is true and what is not. And often, pieces of a story are true, but specific verbiage is utilized in order to promote a desired emotion to accompany the reporting.
Writes David A. Clark Ph.D. in this week’s Psychology Today about the virus, “Media coverage of health issues is biased. The news outlets devote more time to emerging health hazards, like the COVID-19 outbreak, than common health threats. Anxious or fearful individuals tend to pay more attention to threat-related information, which then drives up their anxiety and distress.”
So what can we do?
A couple of things, no doubt. Back to Dr. Clark, for a moment…
- “Be guided by medical advice and not your feelings…
- Limit your exposure to coronavirus news: Given your bias for threat, it’s best to restrict time spent searching the latest news on the coronavirus. You’ll want to be well-informed from health advisories but make sure your sources are credible…
- Avoid compulsive washing: Follow the CDC guidelines for washing your hands. If you find yourself washing until you feel better, this may be a sign you’ve slipped into OCD territory.
- Normalize your life: Don’t let fear rule your daily living. As the coronavirus news becomes more urgent, be guided by reason, responsibility, and keep your fears in check.”
And lastly, say your prayers. I go back to Dr. Clark’s advice, “Don’t let fear rule your daily living.” I continue to recognize that in my prayers and in all those who have shared historical encounters with the great big God of the universe, in each encounter, what’s the first thing God says?
“Don’t be afraid.”
Time and time again.
Increasingly more, therefore, I see us neglecting the wisdom of the great big God of the universe. It’s not that concerns about coronavirus are invalid; indeed, we should be mindful and aware. Even error on the side of caution. But when fear becomes our greatest driver — recognizing the actual, paralyzing and even physical toll fear, stress and worry take on our lives — I question how wise is our response.