The Over-Reliance on Personal Experience

…the rise of misinformation, and “Covid fatigue” have been, in my view, the principal reasons for the surge in Cobid-19 cases and the coming increase in fatalities.

For most human beings, what we see and what we hear is far more important to us, and we’re more likely to believe what we see or hear – or what we don’t – than what we read in the newspapers or online (unless that online contact is a “trusted” source or friend), and our behavior reflects that.

Here in Southwest Utah, in my county, there have only been eight hundred cases of Covid-19 and three fatalities all year. Yet, as I write this, in Salt Lake some 250 miles to the north and in St. George 50 miles to the south, case numbers are surging, and ICUs are almost at full capacity.

Has that made any difference in behavior here? More people wearing masks or social distancing? Not that I can see. People wear masks only where they’re absolutely required, and there’s certainly no social distancing in public spaces. Outside, college students are unmasked and congregate in close proximity.

Almost no one knows anyone who contracted Covid-19, and the few cases they know about turned out to be mild. Then there’s the fact that Utah’s the reddest of the red states, and Trump signs and banners abound. And what is Trump saying? That Covid’s not a problem, and that we’ve “turned the corner.” With a resurgence of cases all across the Midwest and in Utah, we may have turned a corner, but it doesn’t look to me like that turn is toward a quick recovery.

But people are tired of not having sports and getting together. While restaurants here are open, they’re required to have social distancing. People are having large gatherings, without masks… and without social distancing. The governor is under intense pressure to relax what restrictions do exist, and the Mothers Against Masks [in school] continue to press against that requirement.

Why? Because no one’s seen much Covid-19, and what serious cases have occurred are quarantined, so that families don’t even see how debilitating the disease can be. Studies show that roughly ten percent of those hospitalized for Covid-19 have permanent systemic damage, but that damage isn’t visible to most people either. People can’t think or breathe as well, and there are a host of other complications.

We’re approaching 220,000 deaths in the U.S., but for too many people (largely Republicans) – those who haven’t lost someone or suffered that permanent damage – 220,000 is just a number, a meaningless and impersonal statistic… and that’s why the cases and deaths will continue.

5 thoughts on “The Over-Reliance on Personal Experience”

  1. Alan says:

    Most of the Covid related occurrence are ‘just’ numbers to most people. By virtue of how relatively small Covid infected are to the total numbers. This is something people have a hard time rationalizing or relating to.

    Roughly 330 million people in the US. Of which ~3 million are confirmed infected. So, 1%. Even if 10 times that are infected, it’s still ‘only’ 10%.

    There’s been about 250,000 deaths attributed to Covid. So based on an infected number of 3m, that’s about 8% mortality.

    These are just numbers to most people. If you live in an area with high Covid concentrations, like New York, you probably do know that 1 in 100 (or 1 in 10 if you go with the 10% number) who’s had it. You might even have a good chance of knowing some one who’s died from it.

    But because the number of infected verses the number of people in the population is still relatively small it’s very easy for people who don’t live in these higher infection rate areas to not encounter it. For those who don’t encounter Covid, it’s all new media, smoke and mirrors, or some one else’s problem.

    Trump’s actions almost never help anything. And people will always believe what supports their own personal bias far more readily than they will something that goes against it. Tell them Covid is deadly and wearing masks slows the spread, but they want to go to the ball park and watch MLB? They’ll cry foul at you every time and point out that no one they know has the virus.

  2. Tom says:

    8% morbidity rate for an old person to get a stroke forces the physician to suggest preventative treatment with a dangerous anti-coagulant.

    I look at the total number of Covid-19 deaths.

    The present total in the USA means that the largest city within 100 miles has been wiped out; plus my little one horse town.

    The total deaths from Covid-19 in the world means that the second largest city in the state would be uninhabited.

    To me; this is impressive; this needs co-operative treatment.

    Yes, this is a biased way of reaching a decision but, so far, I have not yet had to experience loss of family or friend from Covid-19.

  3. Postagoras says:

    I don’t think the issue is a bias for personal experience. I think the issue is how easy it is to fan the flames of suspicion toward “others”.

    The end result is the same, but the wellspring of this chaos is fear of The Other.

  4. Grey says:

    1 in 1,000 Black Americans have been killed by COVID-19.*

    *yes, it’s true. https://www.vox.com/2020/9/29/21494803/presidential-debate-2020-joe-biden-us-covid-deaths

  5. Tim says:

    My wife is basically handling the Covid response for one of the very large Government Contractors. With regards to how some people are handling this, she likes the following quote from Bojack Horseman:

    “When you’re wearing rose-colored glasses, all of the red flags just look like flags.

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