Precaution exhaustion
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - August 5, 2020 - 12:00am

When the outbreak first happened around the world back in March, people and governments scrambled. Lockdowns were put in place and health and science experts were tapped to try to find the best way to deal with the virus and the safest way to keep people from getting sick. It was a very scary time and nobody knew what to expect or what the future held. They just rushed to the supermarket, tried to stock up, and hunkered down waiting (hopefully) for the storm to pass.

Fast-forward to a few months later and the proverbial storm hasn’t passed. In fact, in some places, it’s worse than ever. While several countries allowed science to lead the way and quickly implemented mass testing, isolation, contact tracing, etc, far too many others sought short-term solutions without thinking of the long-term plan.

New Zealand is a shining example of a country that quickly acted and before long they beat the virus, bringing their cases down to zero. People could return to work, children to school because they strictly followed the recommended scientific guidelines.

Italy and Spain saw their cases drop as well. Through strict measures, they were able to control what was once a scary and uncontrollable spike. Unfortunately, that was not the case for everyone. Here in the Philippines, the USA, and many other countries, we have made very little steps forward in finding long-term solutions. The United States, in particular, is being extremely cavalier considering they have one of the highest infection curves in the world. Their president claims it’s because they test more than any other country – spoiler alert: they don’t. They just refuse to follow recommended guidelines, claiming it infringes on their freedoms. Honestly, I’m worried about the outcome of their scenario.

Which isn’t to say that we are faring any better. While I am grateful for the fact that, at the very least, we don’t have to fight about mask-wearing in the Philippines, we are still lacking for a plan. We keep taking steps to reopen the economy – also understandably because people need to work and earn – but there are no protocols in place for long-term sustainability. Our numbers have spiked dangerously again and there doesn’t seem to be a solution in sight.

I read somewhere that the government is now looking at mass testing to help flatten the curve. This is a headline that could have and should have been written last March. We had one of the longest lockdowns in the region, but we didn’t utilize the time to truly prepare for when the lockdown was eventually lifted. It seems like such a waste of that precious time when everyone was indoors to prepare for the eventual return to society. Now, we are heavily in debt and we have very little to show for it.

And what’s scary is that the virus is getting stronger, cases are going up, and I don’t think the country can afford to go back into lockdown again. Too much has been lost in the past several months and so many businesses have sadly gone the way of the dodo. We can’t risk that happening to more Filipinos. Honestly, it’s time we stop dragging our feet and focus on COVID-19, which is the real problem in the country right now. Everything else can wait. After all, what is the point of anything else if our hospitals are getting overrun and our people are dying.

To add insult to injury, people are now exhibiting precaution exhaustion. It’s bolstered by the role of cognitive dissonance during the pandemic and people are finding reasons or excuses not to be vigilant. The cognition of “I want to see my friends again, or have a small birthday party” is dissonant with all the scientific evidence that this is dangerous and can severely impact you and everyone around you. So to make this work, people make excuses for their behavior – “But we’re all still really healthy or no one is exhibiting symptoms, etc.” This allows them to justify their behavior – to go to a friend’s house without a mask (“It’s just the two of us anyway.”) In the end, this can easily result in more people getting infected and more people needing to go to the hospital.

I’ve seen it on social media. People aren’t just going back to work or buying essentials – they are meeting up with friends, having “intimate get-togethers,” going to mini-breaks. While this is all well and good, and I wouldn’t want to begrudge people their happiness, safety precautions still need to take precedence. Masks and social distancing should still be a priority.

Just because we’ve “re-opened” doesn’t mean the virus has gone away. It’s still there, scary as ever, and targeting even more people. There’s no longer any truth to it only being a problem for older people or the immune-compromised. Yes, they are still very susceptible, but now people below 30 are dying, children ages six, eight, and 11 are listed among those testing positive. I know it feels like we’ve been sacrificing for so long, but we need to make sacrifices for ourselves and those we love.

And that’s another reason it’s so hard – it’s a sacrifice after all – and COVID precaution exhaustion stems from seeing other people go about their lives and enjoy pleasures we have been denying ourselves in the name of safety. Our sacrifices and efforts are being devalued by others who have justified their carelessness and in the end, we all end up tired and ready to chuck caution to the wind.

But we need to remain strong. We need to remind each other that we are sacrificing for the greater good and that we need to do our best to remember to be careful every single time. It only takes a split second for us to infect others or get infected.

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