People packed into a pool at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.
Parks in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak, jammed with sunbathers
A crowded brunch spot in Colorado with diners celebrating Mother’s Day.
With more than 100,000 Americans dead and rising from the novel coronavirus, health experts and other leaders have been pleading for people to adhere to their strict guidelines to keep people safe.
But all too recently, these and other examples, large and small, have emerged of people blatantly defying social distancing and face-covering rules.
Psychology experts said they haven’t been surprised by this type of behavior, since it’s been a long-standing issue with public health: the ability for people to assess risk. Rajita Sinha, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University and the founding director of the Yale Stress Center, said the uncertainty about when the pandemic will end, access to information and one’s underlying beliefs can influence someone to flout precautions.
“Those features of the current pandemic really put into gear people’s need for control which is an important aspect of coping,” she told ABC News. “Gaining control is a basic way we cope.”
Sinha and other health experts say there is no easy solution to the problem, but there are ways to help those individuals see the need for health precautions.
She noted that risk is a very abstract concept to people. While some people may look at the COVID-related news and feel fear from the images of sick patients, others may want to take their chances, Sinha said.
“If you’re in a bad scenario where there is a lot of danger…if you worried you may not be able to get yourself out, there is a mechanism where we just plow along,” she said.
Joshua Ackerman, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, who has studied behaviors related to infectious diseases, said individualism also plays a part in adhering to guidelines.
“If people think masks are self-protection and you don’t think you’ll need protection, you won’t wear them,” he told ABC News.
Sten Vermund, the dean of Yale School of Public Health, likened the behavior to running a red light.
“They don’t perceive enough personal risk and they don’t have a sense of altruism that is acute,” he told ABC News.
Attitudes on masks and social distancing are mixed in the U.S., according to polling from ABC News and Ipsos. At the end of April, a large majority of the country (82%) were concerned about coronavirus and just 14% thought stay-at-home orders restricted personal liberty. Earlier in April, an ABC News/Ipsos poll found that 55% of Americans had worn a mask in the last week.
While guidance on social distancing has largely been consistent and long-standing — staying 6 feet away from others to prevent the transmission of respiratory droplets, avoiding large gatherings and staying home — wearing a mask has been has been much murkier. Public health officials initially suggested that people not wear masks and instead reserve them for health workers, but on April 3, they recommended that people wear cloth masks in public to prevent asymptomatic transmission.
That message has been further confused by President Trump generally refusing to wear a mask, despite the CDC recommendation.
Information, particularly that which is circulating in one’s immediate circle, is an important factor for people’s behavior’s during the pandemic, according to Ackerman. Even though the U.S. leads the world with over 1.7 million cases, there are whole counties, particularly in rural communities, where there are few or no cases. The pandemic looks very different in those places compared to hotspots such as New York City.
Ackerman said the lack of centralized and consistent health-related messaging from local, state and federal leaders and the polarization of news sources will lead people to make different choices.
Source: ABC News