4 Easy Ways to Stay Consistent with COVID-19 Protocol, Even After Months of the Pandemic

Now’s not the time to relax and ignore guidelines.

By Michael Bohl, MD, MPH
Your Video is Loading

Why Wearing a Face Mask Has to Be a Team Effort (1:50)

Most of our daily tasks don’t require much thought. Things like showering, eating, and using the bathroom are second nature by now, but what if we told you there was a more efficient way to do everyday activities you’ve forgotten about? Correct Me If I’m Wrong… is DoctorOz.com’s award-winning series about improving even the most mundane tasks you tackle on a daily basis so you can live happier and healthier.

The more things open back up, the more people seem to be more relaxed about the threat of COVID-19. But, the data on the spread in the United States tells a different story. Today, there are more new cases on a daily basis than there were in March, April, May, and much of June. And daily deaths are now back up after a dip in late June and early July. It seems that we’ve reached a point where COVID-19 is more widespread, yet we are doing less about it. Why is that?

RELATED: Subscribe to the Dr. Oz newsletter for wellness tips, recipes, and exclusive sneak peeks from The Dr. Oz Show.

Before delving into the many reasons we’ve become more “relaxed” about COVID-19, it’s important to point something out. The numbers of new cases and deaths across the country may be up on average, but things are different on a local level. In many areas, new cases and deaths are down from where they were months ago — and that is the reason for the relaxed behavior in those places. Nonetheless, no matter where you live, you may have found yourself less scared of COVID-19 now than you were in the past. Here are a few reasons why:

You’ve Been Overexposed to the News

As some are pointing out, becoming less scared of COVID-19 could be a simple function of hearing about it every day. The more exposed you are to news about COVID-19, the more it becomes a part of your everyday life and the more you accept it. Our brains are trained to notice new and surprising things — to mount a fight-or-flight response when danger is imminent. But when that danger lingers and never goes away, it becomes part of our routine. Yes, it’s still something to think about every day, but it’s not necessarily something to “flee” from. This concept of gradual desensitization is actually the hallmark of treatment for many common fears. Afraid of heights? Slowly introduce somebody to higher and higher places until they are used to it. Have a social phobia? Expose somebody to increasingly larger numbers of people until the anxiety dissipates. The same is happening with COVID-19. When we hear about the virus every day, it starts to lose its shock value.

The Trauma Caused By COVID-19 Seems Distant for Some

The numbers of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in the United States are devastating. But to many, they may just be numbers. Unless you work in healthcare or live in a big city, you may not have actually felt the effects of COVID-19 on a personal level and you may not know anybody who’s had it. On average, less than two out of every 100 people in the country have had COVID-19. As such, it’s possible the disease is only something you see in the news rather than something that affects your everyday life. So, while you logically recognize the dangers of the pandemic, you may feel a degree of emotional detachment from it.

There’s Less Uncertainty Now

There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19. We don’t know how to treat it, we don’t know how long immunity lasts, and we may not have quantified all of its possible symptoms. But we do know a lot more about the virus than we did at the beginning. We know how it spreads and how it doesn’t. We know what conditions put individuals at higher risk of disease. We know how to test for both active and past infection. And we know what practices can actually slow the spread of the virus. Since we now have more knowledge, there may be less fear of the unknown. COVID-19 is still dangerous, but the danger is more predictable — and, therefore, more manageable.

We Have Different Goals Now

One of the main choruses at the beginning of the pandemic was the need to “flatten the curve” and do everything we can to make sure the healthcare system isn’t overwhelmed by cases. Flattening the curve allowed us to buy time, both to make sure hospitals had the personal protective equipment (PPE) and breathing machines they needed and to make sure intensive care unit (ICU) beds didn’t run out. Today, we’re still trying to slow the spread of the virus, but calls to flatten the curve have mostly subsided. This shift may give the impression that there’s less to worry about because — if you do get infected — you no longer have to be concerned about depleted resources. Whether or not this is actually true is one thing (there are concerns that PPE shortages could happen again). However, this may be one reason people feel more relaxed about COVID-19.

The Economy is Struggling

It’s worth mentioning that some people may be more relaxed about COVID-19 not because they want to be, but because they have to be. Along with the pandemic came the worst economic crisis in decades and our system wasn’t set up to handle it. There hasn’t been a second round of stimulus checks, rent hasn’t been canceled, and the $600/week of extra unemployment benefits have lapsed. Faced with financial hardship, many people may be getting back to life and work as usual because they have no choice.

What Can You Do to Remedy COVID-19 Fatigue?

Even if one or all of these things applies to you, it’s important to realize that there is still a pandemic going on and you need to remain vigilant. If you’re reading this article, that’s already a good sign — it means you’re still interested in COVID-19 news and you still want to stay up-to-date on the situation. Staying informed is a good first step to making sure you continue following COVID-19 protocols. Just be aware that you may start feeling desensitized over time, so keep checking in with yourself.

If you do start to feel desensitized, try to make COVID-19 behaviors a part of your daily routine, so following protocols becomes second nature.

  • Keep your facemask with your keys: That way, every time you leave the house, you’ll automatically grab the two together and will remember to keep the facemask on.
  • Keep hand sanitizer in the car: Try to keep it somewhere visible, like the console next to the driver’s seat, to increase the chances that you see it and use it.
  • Keep your schedule full of safe activities: If you fill your schedule up with activities you know are safe, you’re less likely to have the time to partake in riskier behavior.
  • Consider volunteering: During the pandemic, there are increased needs for volunteers at places like food banks or for services like meal delivery. As long as you’re not sick, this is a great way to keep yourself occupied, continuously remind yourself that the pandemic is still going on, and help out your community

Related: 

Are All Outdoor Parties Safe? Here’s When They Get Dicey

Are Young People Getting COVID-19? Here’s How It Affects Kids & Young Adults

How Some States Managed to Lower COVID-19 Cases Successfully

Article written by Michael Bohl, MD, MPH