We see the photos of crowded beaches, bars, and parties across the United States on a weekly basis. Citizens of other countries are looking at the USA and scratching their heads thinking, “Why do they act like they do not care about the pandemic?”

Restaurants are packed. Stores are full. The federal government and the prestigious Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been missing-in-action, offering little in terms of federal support or guidance. Even governors — most famously Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis — have left health guidelines during a global pandemic to individual towns and cities to decide.

Worst of all, too many Americans seem not to understand that the novel coronavirus is still very much with the U.S. — and people are dying every day because too many people are ignoring the simple steps we can all take to help protect one another. It begs the question, if the pandemic is so serious and deadly, why are people still crowding beaches, bars, and parties during it?

Quarantine, Stay-at-Home Fatigue is Real

People generally don’t intend to go to the beach and crowd with others, while not maintaining a minimum 6 feet distance between non-family members. They think, “How crowded could it be? We’ll find some place far enough away.” Then they get there and find out thousands of others had the exact same idea. And because it’s so hot at the beach, few people are wearing masks.

Luckily, as risk factors go, beaches are pretty low on the scale for spread of the coronavirus. It’s outdoors, there’s usually a pretty good breeze coming off of the water, the direct sunlight helps reduce the lifespan of the virus, and in most cases, you can find a space on the beach that is at least a few feet (if not exactly 6) apart from one another. All things considered, beaches — if not packed like sardines in a can — are pretty safe.

People are tired of staying at home. People are tired of making the same dozen meals every few weeks. People are tired of the routine — something more typical of winter months rather than the summer months when school is out and most families plan to take their vacation.

In short, pandemic fatigue is a real phenomenon — and I’m certainly not the first to notice this. Humans weren’t naturally built for this kind of constant physical distancing, to deny themselves pleasures they believe they deserve (such as going out to eat or drink).

One simple solution to fatigue is changing your routine — and getting out and interacting with others is people’s default. If done mindfully, such a coping mechanism for fatigue is potentially okay, done in moderation and in consideration of your safety and that of others. Outdoor spaces are relatively safe; indoor spaces much less so.

Denial: Some Still Don’t Believe the Pandemic is Real

Due to the weird politicization of the pandemic in America (that never happened in the vast majority of other countries), there are some people who honestly believe the spread of the virus — or the virus itself — isn’t real. Or they don’t think it’s “that bad.” “Fake news!” “Just trying to scare us!” With over 140,000 Americans dead, and millions more who will suffer from chronic, life-long health problems, many of which are extremely serious, some people are simply in denial.

It’s not surprising. Experts and scientists have been denigrated and downgraded repeatedly during the past four years. Science has become whatever someone reads online, from social media or some quack doctor who’s peddling the latest conspiracy theory. Too many people dismiss science in favor of their own opinion, which they mistakenly believe holds some weight against something like a virus.

Sadly, many of them learn too late that COVID-19 is no hoax, as they are intubated and fighting for their life in a crowded ICU. It’s a rude awakening to reality, but a reality some still feel perfectly comfortable denying.

Minimizing Risk: I’m Wearing a Mask, So I’ll Be Okay

It’s true — wearing a mask in public is indeed the best way not only to protect yourself from the pandemic, but to also protect your fellow citizens. A facemask shows that you care about others. Not wearing a mask shows not only a person’s ignorance, but extreme selfishness and lack of caring for other Americans.

But masks aren’t a guarantee — they are just a really good way to significantly reduce the transmission of the virus. If you can avoid situations where a mask is needed — such as by staying at home — you are significantly cutting your risk factor for contracting the virus.

Every time you feel you need to be at an indoor bar or restaurant or other space where people are congregating, you’re upping your risk factor. And every time you need to pull down your mask to eat or drink (or take it off altogether), you’re significantly increasing your risk.

Don’t be fooled into a false sense of security by going to outdoor bars and restaurants. Most aren’t seating people a full 6 feet (which is a minimum, really) apart and few people wear masks. Even outdoors, such an activity is again upping your risk (although a lot less than indoors).

Expressing Anger: Deciding Not to Wear a Facemask

Even if a person acknowledges the pandemic might be real and that it’s in everyone’s best interests for all Americans to come together and wear a facemask, some are using this as an opportunity to express pent-up anger about their feelings of disaffection and being forgotten. They believe this is a legitimate form of self-expression, even going so far as to make up medical excuses for not wearing one to justify their decision.

When a person is angry or frustrated, often the easiest thing to do is to act out — to express that anger or frustration to others. This anger is cloaked in self-righteous self-expression (or worse yet, as a “rights” issue), because more often than not the angry person may not even be aware of what they’re doing. After all, most of us have no experience with dealing with a pandemic.

Be Smart, Be Safe, Let’s Do it Together

Nobody wants the economy to suffer. Nobody wants the schools to remain closed.

But we have to be realistic about effective ways to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, using actual data from other countries and our understanding of the virus from scientific studies. We now have a wealth of evidence to plan an effective method for reducing coronavirus infections, serious health problems resulting from it, and even deaths.

As Americans, we need to pull together and get smarter about how we’re dealing with the virus. Without federal leadership — or even state leadership in some cases — it’s up to each one of us to take responsibility as a citizen to do our part. Just like in a war effort where a country pulls together, we need to come together and do the few simple things asked of us:

  • Wear a mask reliably when out in public
  • Minimize going out, especially to indoor places — avoid eating or drinking in indoor spaces
  • Limit yourself to outdoor activities where physical distancing is encouraged and possible
  • Continue to socially connect with friends and family while maintaining physical distancing — outdoors or virtually
  • If given a choice, always choose the activity with the least amount of risk (outdoors vs indoors) and other people (few vs many)

Keep safe, make smart decisions. And remember, we’re all in this together — COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate based upon age, gender, race, or religion.

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