September 26, 2021

During a time when health and safety are of utmost importance, many of us follow the guidelines and protocols from public health officials. As we should. We sanitize our hands, wear masks and socially distance from one another. While these tasks are quite simple, some find them to be seemingly onerous.

It’s as if people are being asked to wear a hazmat suit and socially distance from Mars. Some are simply refusing to wear masks or socially distance, while others are going as far as organizing and attending COVID-19 protests. The guidelines and protocols are simple and straightforward. Why don’t people follow them?

There seem to be endless rationalizations. Several people claim that imposing the use of masks goes against their freedom and personal choice, while others defy protocols because they reckon the pandemic is an elaborate hoax. Powerful psychological and emotional factors supersede these excuses.

According to Public Health Ontario, the province confirmed 1,925 cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday. This is the highest number of cases recorded in a single day. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. David Williams, attributes the recent high trends to COVID-19 fatigue.

As humans, we tend to perceive things we want to perceive and discard things that we don’t want to process. This keeps our brains free from an overload of information and makes us more adaptive to our environment. According to psychologists, COVID-19 fatigue relates to behavioural changes based on perceived susceptibility and severity. In simpler terms, people are tired of the pandemic. People are behaving as though susceptibility is impossible and severity is none.

Some might reason that it’s been nine months and they have yet to contract the virus. Others may say they only know a few people who have come down with COVID-19. Psychologists believe these mindsets reduce perceived susceptibility and severity. With these mindsets becoming increasingly common, COVID-19 numbers are becoming increasingly high.

According to psychologists, another factor contributing to increasing COVID-19 numbers is psychological habituation. When we are exposed to something consistently, we no longer perceive or process it mentally. We then experience emotional desensitization.

Information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has consumed us for over nine months. Whether it’s the news informing you of confirmed case numbers or a sign reminding you to sanitize your hands and wear a mask, information is everywhere. The overexposure of this information is causing desensitization. As a result, people are becoming numb to the guidelines, protocols and risks of COVID-19. 

Local, provincial and national governments should be using the necessary strategies to bypass individual COVID-19 fatigue and emotional desensitization. These attributing factors should be incorporated within educational and informational public campaigns. Acknowledgement of these psychological factors will perhaps encourage people to refrain from becoming tired and desensitized.

There have been over 3,500 COVID-19 related deaths in Ontario. It’s easy to become tired of hearing this number. It’s easy to become desensitized to this number. But we must remember there are people behind this number.

The guidelines and protocols are simple and straightforward. Follow them.

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