An orderly sense of calm has come over the grocery stores, replacing the frenzied panic of a few weeks ago. The local TV news is leading off with stories other than the coronavirus. That’s after two solid months of the first 80% of each program being dedicated to the pandemic. Meanwhile, Wall Street is carrying on as if the pandemic is just a bump in the road on the way to higher valuations. Is it possible we may finally be reaching coronavirus fatigue?
There’s no question, the media and the Internet are still awash in stories of pandemic gloom and doom. But there’s increasing push back to those stories, and maybe even a growing sense of doubt and disbelief.
The changes may be subtle, but it’s starting to become increasingly obvious we may finally be reaching coronavirus fatigue.
There are nine possible explanations:
1. We’ve Reached our Limit on Panic and Fear
It’s been said humans have a limited ability to grieve. That makes it reasonable we also have limits on other emotions, including panic and fear.
It’s not that the grief, panic or fear – or any other negative emotion – completely disappear. But rather that they become less acute over time. Let’s face it, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t the only problem most of us face. It may be the crisis du jour, but it hardly stands alone.
As well, every source of panic and fear is always most severe at the outset. That’s when the crisis looks most threatening, and few answers or solutions are available. That’s still the case with the coronavirus, but we may be running out of bandwidth for panic and fear, and gravitating toward any form of relief – real or imagined.
2. We’re in Denial
Denial is a widespread intellectual and emotional state among human beings, particularly in the face of disaster. There’s even a semi-clinical name for the mindset – normalcy bias. Basically, we filter out and even ignore news, information and developments that don’t fit neatly within our personal concepts of normal. And right now, who doesn’t want things to go back to normal?
Regardless how we interpret the current flow of events, the coronavirus pandemic remains a dangerous and unpredictable foe. The number of people infected with the virus has reached the
one million mark in the US and is still growing by tens of thousands each day.
Is it possible we’ve reached the point where we simply don’t want to accept this anymore?
It definitely is.
3. We Can’t Handle Contemplating How Bad the Pandemic Might Get
Not to be overly negative, but the reality is there is no cure for the coronavirus nor even a promise of one over the horizon. We’re left with nothing more than raw speculation as to how things play out once the economy is reopened, whether we develop some sort of immunity or the virus subsides during the warm weather season, or whether or not the pandemic will return with a vengeance in the fall.
The numbers thus far have been bad enough, but they don’t approach the initial estimates of 200,000 deaths in the US. Whether any of the variables break in the wrong direction may be beyond our capacity to absorb.
4. We Just Want Normal
After nearly two months of bunkering down at home and having our regular lives disrupted, we’re groaning for anything that looks and feels like normal. That’s perfectly natural, especially during times such as these.
Normal as we knew it in pre-pandemic times may never return. But if coronavirus fatigue is beginning to set in, that might not matter. We just want this to be over so we can get on with whatever comes next. In a society of 200 TV channels, drive-up windows, and unlimited Internet surfing, we expect nothing less.
Put another way, it’s time to change the channel. That’s the normal we’re used to.
5. We’re Certain the Pandemic Will Go Away if We Just Get Back to Normal
Protests against the lockdown are increasing in frequency and intensity. While not everyone is prepared to join in those protests, many are at least sympathetic to the cause.
There’s an entrenched belief among some that this whole nasty episode will disappear if we just go back to normal. While it’s part of the denial process, it’s also a belief system. Some see conspiracy theories behind the lockdown, but many also see the potential damage the lockdown is doing.
That opens another important consideration…
6. We’re No Longer Certain What’s Being Done is Actually Working
The idea that the lockdown, social distancing, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize the spread of the virus may not be as certain as we want to believe. After all, the number of those infected, as well as deaths, have been rising since all these measures were put in place.
We’ll never know how much behavioral modification has reduced the spread of the virus, but we can say conclusively that it has not eliminated it. The numbers have grown steadily despite all the measures taken.
Like virtually everything else about the coronavirus, nothing seems certain. For example behavioral modification seems to have worked in China and South Korea. But similar measures have been implemented in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, but the numbers continue to grow. It’s likely there are factors involved in the spread of the virus that are not well understood, but give behavior modification only limited utility.
There may be a growing sense that if behavior modification can’t contain the pandemic, a Plan B is needed. Given everything else, the hope is that such a plan will involve a major shift back to “normal”.
7. We Now Fear an Economic Collapse More than the Pandemic
We’ve all heard the saying the cure is worse than the disease. As that might relate to the coronavirus pandemic, the jury is still out.
Thus far, the cure has been personal isolation and a shattered economy. Many experts are predicting another Great Depression. That shouldn’t be dismissed out-of-hand either. Many of the companies, businesses and jobs lost during the shutdown aren’t coming back. The longer the shutdown goes, the deeper the economic damage will be.
It may be that we’re facing a choice between two mutually exclusive – but equally destructive – options for dealing with the pandemic. We can either open the economy and risk devastating health consequences, or keep the economy closed, hold the virus in check, but face devastating economic consequences.
If history is any guide, economic devastation almost always results in health-related devastation. We may have to choose the lesser of the two evils and prepare for the consequences. Put another way, we’re in a classic no-win situation.
Some people may have already seriously contemplated this possibility and have made a decision that reopening the economy is the lesser of the two evils. That will require mentally downgrading the future fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in another coronavirus fatigue contributor.
8. We’re Just Plain Over It – The Essence of Coronavirus Fatigue
Let’s be honest, we’ve had a really good run here in the US since 1945. There have been plenty of scares, including threats of previous pandemics. But somehow we managed to overcome them, or they turned out to be less severe than predicted. That’s pretty much been the story for the past 75 years, which is just about full human lifetime. That length of time creates certain thought patterns that aren’t easily overcome.
We may not be mentally and emotionally prepared for a true crisis, one that can’t be solved by a miracle technological breakthrough, sending in the military, or trillions of dollars of Federal Reserve money printing.
Pinned in the corner with no viable options, we may simply be ready to throw caution to the wind. That will start with a declining interest in anything related to the virus, and a growing desire to do whatever it takes to get back to business as usual.
In a society accustomed to unlimited access to restaurant meals, movie theaters, beaches, theme parks and travel, it may just be easier to get over a crisis, at least in our own minds.
9. We’ve Resigned Ourselves to Learning to Live with the Coronavirus
Though it’s only been a couple of months since we’ve come to realize the true seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, many may have quickly accepted the reality that life will never go back to normal. Instead, there’s a resignation that we need to learn to live with the virus, and however that world will look.
That will naturally involve the risk of stepping out of the bunker, more fully (but not completely) participating in the economy, and getting as close to normal social behavior as possible.
That may sound suicidal, but it’s not as irrational as it seems on the surface. After all, we’ve long since accepted the reality that hundreds of thousands of people die each year from common illnesses, like heart disease and cancer. Though we modify our behavior as a result, we hardly retreat to a cocoon as a solution.
Until and unless a cure is developed, this may be the only logical response. Millions may have already come to that conclusion, and have begun to tune out the coronavirus news.
After a while, the news – in this case the coronavirus – ceases to be new. As it does, learning to coexist with a disturbing reality starts to become the new normal. Some may have reached that point faster than the rest of us and are already losing interest.
Do you think we’re reaching the point of “coronavirus fatigue”? If so, why do you think it’s happening? And what do you think will be the outcome of the pandemic, relating to health consequences, social behavior, and economic factors?