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This pandemic is not over, and we need to stop acting like it is

A reminder of safety and community

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The United States has seen a total of 3,630,587 coronavirus cases and 138,782 deaths as of July 18, according to the CDC. That’s an increase of 74,710 cases and 918 new deaths compared to the previous day.

Coronavirus cases and deaths are rising.

So why are we gathering in groups, unmasked and not socially distanced? Why are we going to parties and hanging around in densely populated areas? We’re not near the end of this pandemic, but we sure are acting like it.

Some of this can be attributed to something called the recency effect, according to UW psychology professor Susan Joslyn. Basically, we’re more likely to remember and recall recent events. In the context of the pandemic, according to Joslyn, if you went out recently and are doing fine and nothing happened, you might be likely to assume things are fine and well now.

This is understandable, especially considering the fact that a lot of us left campus in March and have been holed up since then. We’re tired, and we just want it all to be over — but it’s not.

I think we could all use a reminder of the precautions we can and should be taking, even if you’re one of the people feeling just fine. Here’s the rundown from Dr. Judith Wasserheit, chair of the department of global health.

“Even if I’m feeling terrific, there’s certain behaviors that can decrease risk of exposure just by physically separating,” Wasserheit said. “So that’s using masks, that’s distancing, that’s covering my cough or my sneeze, that’s avoiding close contact with people who are doing something that makes them spew out more secretions that might be carrying a virus.”

The other thing we all need to keep in mind is the number of people we’re exposed to.

“The other thing I can do to limit exposure is to limit the number of exposures, so that means no mass gatherings, no going to concerts, or large sports events, especially in inside spaces with limited airflow,” Wasserheit said. “Lecture halls, stadiums, classrooms, houses of worship — those are not places to be going right now.”

And if you’re going to be in a situation where exposure is necessary, limit the time of exposure. If you’re less than 6 feet away from someone and you don’t know what risk you might present to one another, keep the interaction to less than 15 minutes, Wasserheit said. Less time equals less risk of exposure.

There are also other measures that we can generally take: washing our hands and making sure to clean off surfaces in the house. Wasserheit also emphasized that you need to consider the combination of actions to take depending on the situation. It’s not the time to go out into a dense area just to buy a dress, but if you’re masked and getting groceries really quick, that’s fine.

“Hosting a small number of friends in your house?” Wasserheit said. “[That’s] okay, particularly if you know those are people who are also taking appropriate precautions, and it’s even better if you can host them out on your deck, so you’re outside, and you’re sitting 6 feet away … especially when you’re eating.” 

These are good reminders of the precautions we should be taking to understand the continuing danger of this pandemic. With the quarantine fatigue that many of us are definitely feeling at this point in the year, many are pining for the end of all this, for things to be “back to normal,” but that probably won’t be anytime soon, unfortunately.

“This virus is probably gonna be with us for quite a while,” Wasserheit said. “We need to lose the word ‘back’ and talk about a new normal, which will be better in some ways. People, for example, are learning that maybe we don’t need to travel so much, and that’ll be good for the climate.”

Things have changed rapidly over the course of just four months, and it’s unlikely that life will go back to what it was before the lockdown and before the pandemic. We should all be keeping this in mind, despite how fatigued and burnt out we might be feeling.

Wasserheit also describes this current moment as an extraordinary opportunity for students, with the combination of the ongoing pandemic and protests for racial justice.

“This is a time when bright, capable students who really care can contribute to the effort to end this pandemic … including helping people understand why we should all be masking, that this is not a political issue, that we have to come together and help each other,” Wasserheit said. “We’re doing this for each other.”

We should care about taking the necessary precautions and staying healthy for our own safety, but also for our community. That’s why we wear masks, for example. It’s about looking to the future and “moving to that better world, being part of protecting the people that you care about,” Wasserheit explained. 

Wearing our masks, limiting interactions to Zoom, and overall being careful shouldn’t be viewed as a nuisance. They convey caring and understanding the gravity of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The fundamental question that each of us should be asking ourselves is, ‘Who are we, in terms of what’s happening around us?’” Wasserheit said. “What do I believe I can and should be doing to be the person that I want to be in this situation, and what can I do to make it better for everyone? In that sense, it is about each of us.”

Reach writer Deborah Kwon at Twitter: @debskwo

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