Coronavirus Fear Is More Contagious Than the Illness


Coronavirus has the world on edge. As rapper Cardi B put it, the disease started in China but is now on tour. The outbreak is now a global pandemic. Coast to coast, large public gatherings, and major events have been canceled. Employees have been told to work from home, universities have moved all classes online and elementary schools have closed for sanitizing. The stock market has seen meteoric crashes and declarations of emergency are being proclaimed. As the number of confirmed cases of illness grows, so does the nation’s collective uncertainty. Anxiety is at an all-time high, causing the fear to seem more contagious than the virus.

The spread of the new coronavirus is not just a public health crisis. It is a global event pervading nearly every aspect of people’s lives, causing them to worry not only about getting sick themselves but about Grandma’s health, what to do with out-of-school kids, and how to absorb their rapidly shrinking 401(k)s. Uncertainty about the nature and trajectory of the threat exacerbates a feeling of not being in control.

As the number of confirmed cases of illness grows, so too does the nation’s collective uncertainty. Psychologists and public health experts say public anxiety is high, and it is largely fueled by a feeling of powerlessness. According to David Ropeik, an expert on risk communication:

When we don’t understand something that leaves us feeling like we don’t know everything we need to know to protect ourselves … that equates to powerlessness, vulnerability.

To accurately describe the anxiety now gripping the world is extremely challenging. The signs of alarm are everywhere, both big and small. They are seen in the faces of subway riders or shoppers when someone coughs or in the eyes of an Uber driver peering above their face mask in the rearview mirror. Fear is also seen in the massive, disproportionate, and self-destructive responses some Americans have taken to the lack of supplies located in the stores across state lines.

At times like these, people naturally want and expect a reasonable, fact-based, and fully staffed government to protect them. But Americans lack one of those right now. Not only is the Trump administration operating on a skeleton crew, but in 2018, the president fired the country’s entire pandemic response team. So, things are genuinely scary. In fact, the fear might be more contagious than the virus itself.

The pandemic is truly terrifying. But other forces are intensifying our fears. As President Donald Trump sought to reassure nervous Americans, some of his public statements have also contradicted public health officials. He drew considerable fire last month for suggesting at a rally that the virus would take care of itself as spring approached. The leader of the free world said:

It looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away; hope that’s true, but we are doing great in our country.

A week later, Trump changed his tune when he said that the epidemic “blindsided the world,” that the challenge was “not our country’s fault” and that a “very dramatic” stimulus was needed to stanch plummeting markets. People do not know what to really make of all the chatter going on. The overload of information along with a lack of clarity has thrown the country into a state of pandemonium. Americans are truly afraid of the unknown and the fear is contagious.

Not everyone reacts to epidemics the same way. Some people are cautious – washing their hands for the time it takes to sing two “Happy Birthdays.” Some only one round. Others are hoarding food and medicine as if an apocalypse were imminent. The good news is, for most people, the illness caused by the coronavirus is generally mild and the flu-like symptoms of fever and cough have not lasted long. The bad news is the virus is novel and highly contagious, and right coronavirusnow there is no vaccine. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems or chronic diseases can become very sick and, in some cases, die.

As referenced earlier, even Cardi B shared her coronavirus fears in a hilarious, profanity-laced Instagram video. Although it was funny, it was also laced with emotion and fear. Never one to shy from speaking her mind, the “Bodak Yellow” rapper said:

I’m a little scared. Let me tell y’all mf******s something. I don’t know what the f*** this coronavirus is about. I don’t understand how it went from China and now it’s on mf***ing tour. Let me tell y’all something, I’m not even gonna front, a b**** is scared. I’m a little scared. A lot of s*** comes from mf***ing China, So if you’re wondering why your mf****ing weave or your Fashion Nova packages haven’t arrived, guess what? coronavirus, coronavirus! I’m telling you, s*** is getting real.

The entertainer used her comedic timing to share what is still nonetheless, a great deal of fear. There are, indeed, very good reasons to be afraid. Even if the odds of, especially for the under 60s age group, dying from the coronavirus are very low, everyone has friends and family in more vulnerable groups. Worrying about protecting others is one of our best and most natural instincts and using that fear to take precautions recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others, such as social distancing and washing hands thoroughly, is very important.

Fear is like a virus – it is contagious. It spreads among individuals and when left to flourish, it can take down organizations and shut down an entire country. Along with the CDC recommendations for minimizing the viral spread, Americans adopt strategies to instill calm in a time of uncertainty. Avoid sharing unverified, sensational stories on social media.  Be smart, manage stress and spread hope instead of fear.

Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)


Foreign Policy: Why Are We So Scared of the Coronavirus?
Instagram: Cardi B

Image Credits:

Top Image Courtesy of Geralt’s Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Chrisallmeid – Wikimedia Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Alexandra_Koch’s Pixabay Page – Creative Commons License

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