COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and Denial

COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and Denial

Good News (Sort Of)! The Level of Denial Goes Down (But as the Death Numbers Rise)

It’s awful that so many people are dying from infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There is another, more hopeful, side to these terrible deaths. As the new media blasts every hour, every day, with the new death numbers, more and more people are breaking through their denial and starting to protect themselves, their family and friends, and all of us. Almost everyone is isolating in place, observing social distance and wearing a mask when they have to go out, washing their hands frequently, and taking care not to touch their face. Excellent!

Read the information below if you want, but it is rapidly fading from current practical use to yesterday’s news and of historical interest only.

Denial Kills People in This COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic

This is the central problem. Denial in this pandemic is killing people. Lots of people. This virus, like most viruses that cause human disease, spreads like fire with a match tossed into a dry field. It starts with one person in their home, then the whole family gets the virus. While they all feel fine for a week they all spread the virus all over town. Husband and wife to work, kids to school. People in the husband’s workplace and wife’s workplace are infected, the kids at school are infected, and in the evening they all go to their home. Soon a million people are infected and 50,000 are dead. COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and denial is a dangerous mix.

You Can’t Get What’s Not There

The SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t come from nowhere. You can’t get it unless you get it from somebody. Stay away from people and you can’t get it. People touch things and leave the virus.  Door handles, counter surfaces, handrails, light switches, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, and so on. Do a good wipe with Clorox or Lysol before you touch them and you can’t get the virus. Wipe after you touch and the next guy won’t get the virus. Just in case, wash your hands frequently. You might have touched something. Soap and warm water gets rid of them. And don’t touch your face. If they are on your hands they’re not in you, but the virus can get into you through your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you forget, you touch something, you don’t wash your hands, and then you rub your eye, and boom, they are in you.

COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and Denial

In 2008, Kenny Chesney, a country singer, released an album titled, Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven. Two songwriters, Jim Collins and Marty Dodson, wrote it. The first 2 lines of the song are, “Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.”  Too bad they didn’t fit the word “denial” into the lyrics somewhere.  It would have fit perfectly. Everybody wants to go to heaven but conveniently forgets you have to die first. Denial.

Why Does It Seem that People are Rushing Toward Possible Death?

The title of this article is COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and Denial but perhaps it should have been denial and COVID-19. Denial is a key element in why so many people are dying.

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

The origin of this quip is unknown.  It’s foggy-history start might date back to 1931, according to the Quote Investigator.  But, you get the idea.

Denial is a potent force in each of our lives. Back in their day the psychoanalysts defined denial as a psychological defense mechanism, a way our mind defends us from the parts of the world we don’t like. Now, the psychoanalysts were not great at curing people. But they were great listeners. And about mental mechanisms they were absolutely brilliant. You see, by using this defense, any unpleasant realities simply did not exist. One’s unconscious mind pushes such realities down, keeps them out of conscious awareness.  Anything in reality that would cause us anxiety simply disappears from our brain. What a simple solution! The person denying is totally unaware that this is going on. Their mind does not want anxiety, so if some external reality might cause anxiety, that external reality is not seen. Poof! Reality goes away.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Was a Famous Expert on Denial

People seem to refuse to follow the public health guidelines to not get, to not spread, COVID-19. On the surface it appears to be really stupid. It’s not a rational way to protect one’s own health and the wellbeing of one’s family and friends. Borrowing from Dr. Kübler-Ross’ idea, grief about dying, in her 1969 book On Death and Dying she said that people coping with grief go through 5 stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Though they don’t always hit people in order, the first one is denial. People told to not gather and to keep 6 feet apart from each other huddle together in large groups in the park. Denial. Presidents say that everything is contained one week and the next week that 200,000 people will die. Denial.

What’s Bad for People is Good for the Virus: COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and Denial

Denial is great for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  It does quite well when people deny.  It spreads among people like wildfire fueled by gasoline.

What Does Denial Sound Like?

Denial sounds like this.  I think I feel feverish but it’s probably just the flu. I should have gotten my flu shot. I’ve got a tickle in my throat but it’s probably just my grass pollen allergy. I think my allergies make my chest feel tight like this, too. I’m sure it’s just a common cold. My kids always bring colds home from nursery school. Do any of these comments sound familiar? Perhaps this is what people say to themselves and their family when they ignore the public health directives and gather the neighborhood together for a backyard barbecue.

Denial by the Name of Optimism Bias is still Denial

Then there’s this whole other concept of “optimism bias”. If you want to know more there are some references below under Helpful Links, but here’s what it is all about. Everyone believes in their mind and soul that if something bad is going to happen, it will happen to someone else, not to them. It’s why people can live in California. If there’s an earthquake it will be up the coast. Or down the coast. It’s why skydivers can skydive. If someone’s parachute will get tangled, it will be someone else’s. Why smokers can smoke. Someone else will get the lung cancer.  Optimism bias is like a special case of denial.

Anger Comes After Denial

The 2nd stage after denial is anger. Physicians and nurses in New York City emergency departments describe people becoming hostile and abusive, destroying furniture and trashing lobbies and waiting rooms. Not real helpful.

The Guy Who Ate the Pangolin Didn’t Know What We Know

Okay, this part about a pangolin and patient zero is from the news media and it’s speculation. We don’t know if “patient zero” was a guy or a woman, or if the non-human source was a pangolin scaly anteater or some other creature in China. Also, we don’t know if patient zero was really a patient or just a person. This first person might not have even gotten sick. This person likely is blameless. He/she didn’t know. But we do now know. And what we’re doing is denial.

Helpful Links:

Optimism Bias – There’s a nice write-up on optimism bias by O’Sullivan and Owen here. The original author might have been Neil Weinstein, and the abstract for the1980 paper is here.

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