Over the past few weeks, coronavirus has evolved from a distant threat into something that seems inescapable. Our notifications are full of the words “COVID-19” and “pandemic.” Our feeds are full of horrifying stories and frightening numbers. There is no toilet paper to be found.
As an epidemiology junkie, I’ve been following the news since COVID-19 was first announced, just I’ve done for every epidemic of the past two decades. This time, the disease has reached pandemic levels, and I’ve quickly realized that people are very resistant to this idea.
I’ve been facing an odd mix of deniers who are convinced that it’s all a cash grab and doomsayers who hoard all the toilet paper. The rest of us don’t know what to do, say, or think. We want to make things better, to hold onto our normal lives, but we also don’t want to get the virus — or spread it on to someone else.
The apocalypse has arrived. Whether or not it’s justified, the world will never again be the same.
Those of us who aren’t outright denying the pandemic’s threat will be afraid to touch strangers or travel to new places. The deniers will chant “I told you so” when our social distancing efforts pay off in a few months or so. The doomsayers will bleakly emerge from their bunkers and wonder why the world didn’t end.
Or, they’ll point out that it did.
The Coronapocalypse, as Twitter is calling it, is happening. And just like in our favorite Hollywood movies, we’re seeing the dark side of humanity. The arrogance. The selfishness. The stupidity.
These are the rules of any apocalypse.
Rule #1: People blame the media
It never ceases to amaze me how many people think of “The Media” as a monolithic group of nameless advertisers, shamelessly plugging for ad views. It’s as though none of them imagine that they know anyone in “the media.” That those people might be scared too.
As the daughter of journalists, I may be biased. But I have hundreds of friends and colleagues in the media, and I can tell you that none of them are excited about COVID-19. They’re not here to profit off tragedy. They’re simply geeks for the truth.
Journalists are somewhat obsessively devoted to a highly ethical, fact-driven delivery of information. If they aren’t, they aren’t really journalists. Unfortunately, the President, who spews lies as though it were carbon dioxide, has made the anti-media song into his anthem.
I’ve seen dozens of memes blaming the media for the panic. The truth is, people would panic anyway. Indeed, while I have yet to see any legitimate news source insist that we’re all going to die, I’ve seen stores devoid of toilet paper and posts asking that we all pray for absolution. Seems to me like the general populace are the unreasonable ones, not the media.
I live in Florida. I see people panic-buy water and bread when hurricanes are 500 miles away. And that’s by people who live in a hurricane-prone state.
People love to panic. It’s not the media’s fault.
Should we ignore the reports from Italy? Should we happily dismiss Dr. Fauci’s advice? Should we tell the CDC scientists that we don’t care what they have to say? Ignorance is bliss, amirite?
Not when you can’t breathe.
Rule #2: People only think of themselves.
We can’t seem to work together to stop a health crisis. Armed with the knowledge that COVID-19’s mortality rate is highest among older or immunocompromised folks, people are heading out to party, shop, and cough on things. They don’t care that they could spread the virus to others.
After all, why aren’t those old people with disabilities shut up at home? That’s where the able-bodied expect them to be. As someone with disabilities, I’ve seen this ugly attitude when there’s no pandemic in sight.
Add in the price-gouging hand sanitizer hawkers and the toilet paper hoarders who genuinely believe that they need 48 rolls for 2 weeks, and you’ve got an unpleasant mix of people who can only look out for themselves.
I started self-quarantine Sunday. I didn’t do it because I’m scared of getting the virus. I did it because I want to be responsible. My husband is one of those immunocompromised people. If I went about my normal life and brought home a virus that could land him in the hospital — or worse — I’d never forgive myself.
The real question is, why’s it so hard to consider someone else’s well-being?
Rule #3: People believe personalities, not scientists.
It seems like a given that in disaster movies, no one listens to the scientists, who end up always being right. In a country with a strong trend of anti-intellectualism, truth is stranger than fiction. Perhaps we should listen to the Hollywood scriptwriters before it’s too late.
Scientists don’t have some evil agenda to cripple the world into an unjustified panic. Very few of them are Dr. Evil or Dr. Horrible or Dr. Doom or… you get it. Most are nerds, caught up in their own research and unable to communicate it to the public.
That’s where science journalists like me come in. We translate the hard-to-understand science into something that everyone can understand. Imagine how we feel being blamed for people’s reactions. Talk about shooting the messenger.
Unfortunately, people are unwilling to listen to writers and journalists, but all too willing to listen to Trump. I’ll be honest, I take that as a failure on our part. When people are whining that the media is calling it a “novel coronavirus” because they believe it isn’t, we have a problem. When people think that influenza vaccines can cure COVID-19 because they hear the word “flu” used for both diseases, we have a problem. People are so arrogant in their small amount of knowledge that they’re willfully endangering others.
The Dunning-Kruger effect has met SARS-CoV-2, and it’s not pretty.
The apocalypse is nigh.
Personally, I hope that enough people take this seriously that it will all seem like a bad dream. I’m willing to be mocked by deniers if it means I helped prevent even one vulnerable person from contracting COVID-19. If there’s anything we can learn from disaster movies, it’s that arrogance will be our downfall. Yet people are binge-watching Outbreak and Contagion in quarantine parties.
It’s time to grow up. It’s time to stay home if we can, to champion truth and fact over conspiracies and delusions. The media is here to help us. Let’s let them do it.