Sick of COVID-19? It is called Corona Virus Fatigue

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OK, we are all sick of COVID-19 and the disruption it has brought to our lives. They even have a term for it – Corona Virus Fatigue.

How it Happened

On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan City, China. ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2’ (SARS-CoV-2) was confirmed as the causative agent of what we now know as ‘Coronavirus Disease 2019’ (COVID-19).

The World came to a very abrupt standstill. On 23 March, a national lockdown was announced in South Africa, starting on 27 March 2020. This was something we could never have imagined. We stayed at home, watched the television and only went out to the shops for essentials.

Stopping the World

I will never forget the peace and quiet – no traffic noise; no cars on the road – wild animals strolling through cities.

And the flip side of the peacefulness of the Pause was the millions who had no access to food or shelter or the ability to provide for their families.

We stayed home and watched television and saw heart breaking scenes of people sick and dying as this novel virus  was ravaging Europe and getting a deadly foothold in the USA.

Across the world people mobilised and governments did the best they could for this unexpected and unplanned for insanity. Here in South Africa where our lockdown was very hard, we had the army in the streets. Roadblocks stopped people to find out where they were going. All inter-provincial an international travel was stopped.

The early months were filled with fear and uncertainty as people we knew go sick – some died and some recovered.

Today I still see people whining about the fact that we could not buy booze of cigarettes for a few months. I also remember the often randomness of the restrictions as shelves were covered with plastic in supermarkets,and for a while people were not allowed t walk their dogs.

No Pandemic Playbook

But nobody had a COVID-19 Pandemic Playbook. Scientists and governments around the world were learning on the run as they tried to protect their people. And on social media everybody was an expert!

I think our government did exceptionally well, especially in light of our inequality and diverse communities; a struggling economy and a limping health system.

Grateful to the WHO

I am very grateful to the World Health Organization (WHO) for their leadership and commitment to help the poorer countries.

US President Donald Trump, who doesn’t like to not be the leader of the pack, picked a fight with the WHO early on in the pandemic and decided to withdraw funding from it, which he did in July.

COVID-19 Numbers Today

According to the World Health Organisation on 24 October 2020, there have been 42,055,863 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,141,567 deaths, reported to WHO.

In South Africa, on 25 October 2020, according to the Covid-19 website 414,246 positive cases have been identified with 644,641 recoveries and 18,944 deaths. Like India, South Africa has a recovery rate of over 90 percent.

Worldometer breaks down the stats in many interesting categories. Have a look. In spite of the Covid fatigue and Covid denialists, the virus is still very much around and is causing as much pain and suffering as it did in the early months.

Low Tech Covid Preventions

Now we have learned that by using simple low tech preventions, we can cut down the spread of the virus and manage to live, carefully. As it will take a few years for the newly developed vaccines to spread across the world, we only have these simple tools – wearing a mask, social distancing and hygiene to keep us safe and productive.

What is Covid Fatigue?

So what is this Covid fatigue all about? (This does not refer to the kind of fatigue that people who have had Coronavirus get) Are we as humankind so driven by our own wants and need and fears and insecurities that we can’t follow a few rules to keep everybody safe?

I mean we all manage drive on the left hand side of the road here in South Africa and obey road signs; stop at red lights.

Experts say that health related behaviour changes don’t have particularly good follow through. Just think of how many times you have started and abandoned a diet; given up smoking, cut down on coffee – at least half the people relapse within six months.

Remember when we hardly went out and when we wiped down our groceries, even took our “outside clothes” off at the door to go straight in to the washing machine?

Today there is still no cure or no vaccine for the coronavirus and infection numbers are on the rise. But I keep seeing people without masks, socialising in groups on social media and buying wholesale into crazy conspiracy theories.

Everybody Else is Doing it

We are social learners. We watch how others behave and then follow them. So when we see people socialising without masks and skipping the social distancing it looks like the “old normal” that feels so very comfortable. We delude ourselves that if we are very careful and our friends are careful, why should we take precautions?

The Social Issue

Human beings are social creatures. We need to connect. Distancing increases feelings of isolation and loneliness for many people. Social isolation is something that most people can only deal with for a short time. They want to be with friends and family and the social distancing feels like something that is all downside with no upside.

The trick is to balance physical distancing with social connectedness. Stop reminiscing about the “good old days”.  Live in the present and move on.

People need to double down on a level of precaution that can be sustained for months to come, keeping safe while not adding to their social isolation.

Crowds and large gatherings still need to be avoided. If Zoom and other video chats have grown stale, hosting your own small get-togethers is a possibility. Remember, your get-together is only as safe as your riskiest friend.

COVID-19 Prevention Guidelines

As the pandemic drags on, following COVID-19 prevention guidelines can feel like more and more of a challenge.

This kind of fatigue is not unique to pandemic precautions like sticking with social distancing, masking up and keeping your hands washed.

Today, there’s still no cure or vaccine for the coronavirus, and infection numbers are on the rise. Almost a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19 and the risk of infection remains.

Now is the time to strengthen your resolve and re-devote yourself to prevention measures.

Compliance, what Compliance?

One explanation for falling off the prevention bandwagon comes down to two important predictors of health behaviours.

  • Perceived susceptibility – how likely do you think you are to get a disease?
  • Perceived severity – if you do get it, how bad do you think it will it be?

Look around and see how many people are wearing masks, in their case or taxis or even in the streets. We know that you cannot go into shops or malls without a mask and hand sanitising.

When last did you see a group photo on Social Media where people are wearing masks?

People look at trends like these and let themselves be lulled into believing they’re less susceptible to COVID-19 or that the disease’s severity isn’t that bad. After all, one might reason, it’s been eight months and I haven’t gotten sick.

Masks, Hygiene and Social Distancing

Some recommendations must be strictly followed. Hand-washing increased dramatically after the start of the pandemic. Hopefully, this will remain high, since it is a basic way to ward off many infectious diseases and one you can sustain without any negative effects on mental health.

Masks are also important. This needs to stay high to help limit the number of new cases.

That leaves physical distancing, which is probably the most difficult. Public health experts often advocate a harm reduction approach for behaviours where abstinence is not feasible – it’s a way to minimize but not eliminate risk.

Crowds and large gatherings still need to be avoided. Remember, your get-together is only as safe as your riskiest friend.

Pandemic Fatigue is Real

Pandemic fatigue is real, and it’s draining to stay on high alert month after month after month.

It can feel strange to reorganize your life around a risk that doesn’t seem real.

The second round of an HSRC and UJ survey found South African people more concerned about the economic effects of the lockdowns than the virus itself

Almost half the respondents (46%) believed they are unlikely to get the disease in the months ahead; 41% thought the threat of the coronavirus is exaggerated; and 23% had been to a funeral or religious service with more than 50 people before the government eased restrictions on social gatherings. In the first round of the survey, only a third believed the threat of Covid-19 has been over stated

Tips to Make Coronavirus Safety Measures Easier

In an article on the Johns Hopkins University website, Dr Carisa Parish explains in really easy steps how to Deal with Coronavirus Burnout and Pandemic Fatigue

  • Make a commitment.
  • Stay flexible as recommendations change.
  • Practice precautions until they’re second nature.
  • Keep necessary supplies handy.
  • Use stories to understand risks and consequences.
  • Give kids some choices.
  • Involve children in keeping families consistent.

We still have a long journey to travel with this virus. All our stories of this 2020 year of Chaos will be told in history. We can decide how we want to tell our stories.