Shelter in Place to Beat this Coronavirus
Currently, we have decided to shelter in place and adapt our behaviors overall in order to curb this coronavirus. We’re wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, and quarantining ourselves in our homes. However, the degree to which we are adhering to the doctors’ orders differs. In our own circles, we know people that are staying inside in total isolation, those who are going out for walks (with and without people), and, as we heard loud and clear from Italy not to–having people over for dinner.
How people adapt their behavior during pandemics is instinctual, such as social isolation and distancing, but how can we say for certain that these measures will help us predict the course of this coronavirus epidemic?
According to Luca Pani, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, there are two important variables in the equation–not only our adaptive behavioral changes such as distancing–the human being and the virus.
Three Phases in Pandemic Psychology
Psychologically speaking, the individual in a pandemic will go through three phases in the adaptation of their behavior.
First, the individual will have adapted their behavior, but the infection will remain an endemic despite these efforts. As a result, people will begin to get agitated and doubt.
Arbitrary dates exist as to when schools might reopen or we might return to work. It is difficult to know how long this pandemic will last, but for most of us, we can imagine that if we’re still inside when summer hits that people will, at least, be itching to get out.
Phase II and III
If our efforts prove to be successful in slowing down the epidemic, we may be fooled that the epidemic is over, which is the second phase. In phase three, the pandemic is officially eliminated through long-term strategies such as vaccines. However, given the success of our methods and absence of the virus itself, we won’t implement our long-term strategies as conscientiously and diligently as we should, enabling it to survive.
Furthermore, how people adhere to adaptive behavioral changes depends on how they perceive their risk. New Yorkers have more or less gone into quarantine even though Cuomo doesn’t plan to shelter-in case the city. What that looks like exactly varies depending on the individual. Some are operating as if New York were in shelter-in-place mode, and some are walking with friends. Others are taking walks alone. Some people wear masks, and others don’t.
Thus, to Professor Pani’s point, it’s very difficult to predict how measures such as quarantine will affect the outcome of a coronavirus because we cannot necessarily predict how people are going to behave.
His recommendation? Stay inside. It’s now, not forever. The brave act is to listen to the experts and look at the strategies that countries in Asia implemented, such as quarantining and social distancing, in order to save lives. That might mean we’re inside for a while. It could very well mean we’re going to have to adapt our behavior longer than we would like. Nonetheless, we could be setting ourselves for trouble in the near and far future if we don’t listen to the experts now and moving forward.
If we have to be inside then, why don’t we make the most of it? As Dr. Matthew Cook said in a recent Delic Radio episode, what if we were to decide that this year was going to be the healthiest years of our lives? What if we were to imagine how we wanted things to change, clearly and specifically, not only in our own lives but the world in which we live? Individually and collectively, can we imagine a brighter future?