Why pandemic fatigue and exhaustion from COVID-19 took over in 2022

2022 was the year many people decided the coronavirus pandemic was over.

President Joe Biden said so in an interview with 60 minutes in September. “The pandemic is over,” he said as he strolled through the Detroit Auto Show. “We still have a problem with COVID. We are still working on it a lot. But the pandemic is over.

His proof? “No one is wearing a mask. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape.

But the week Biden’s remarks were released, around 360 people were still dying from COVID-19 every day in the United States. Globally, around 10,000 deaths have been recorded each week. That’s “10,000 too many, when most of these deaths could be prevented,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference at the time. . Then, of course, there are the millions of people who still struggle with lingering symptoms long after an infection.

These staggering numbers have ceased to alarm people, perhaps because these statistics followed two years of staggering death toll (SN online: 05/18/22). The indifference to the growing death toll may reflect pandemic fatigue that has taken hold deep in the public psyche, leaving many feeling overwhelmed and done with safety precautions.

“We didn’t warn people about fatigue,” says Theresa Chapple-McGruder, an epidemiologist in the Chicago area. “We didn’t warn people that pandemics can last a long time and we still need people to be prepared to care about you, your neighbors, your community.”

Public health agencies around the world, including in Singapore and the UK, have reinforced the idea that we can “get back to normal” by learning to “live with COVID”. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the guidelines raised the threshold for the number of cases which would trigger the masking (SN online: 03/03/22). The agency also shortened suggested isolation times for infected people at five daysalthough most people still test positive for the virus and are potentially contagious to others for several more days (SN online: 08/19/22).

The changing guidelines have caused confusion and forced individuals to decide when to mask, test and stay at home. Essentially, the strategy shifted from public health – protecting your community – to individual health – protecting you.

A yellow MTA sign indicates "I take care of you.  You take care of me.  Stop the spread.  Wear a mask." Two cartoon characters wear masks and give a thumbs up.
At the start of the pandemic, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority posted signs asking people to wear masks on the subway. MTA
A yellow MTA sign indicates, "Masks are encouraged, but optional.  Respect everyone's choices.  Four characters appear with different mask placement, with the words, "Yes" and "you do yourself"below.
In early September, MTA changed its policy, focusing on individual choice rather than mutual protection.MTA

Doing your part can be exhausting, says Eric Kennedy, a sociologist specializing in disaster management at York University in Toronto. “Public health says, ‘Hey, you have to make the right choices every moment of your life. Of course, people will get bored with that.

Doing the right thing — from getting vaccinated to wearing masks indoors — hasn’t always seemed to pay off on a personal level. As effective as vaccines were at preventing people from getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, they weren’t as effective at protecting against infection. This year, many people who have struggled to make safe choices and have Avoided COVID-19 was infected by crafty omicron variants (SN online: 04/22/22). people sometimes has been reinfected — some more than once (SN: 07/16/22 and 07/30/22, p. 8).

These infections may have contributed to a sense of futility. “Like, ‘I did my best. And even with all this work, I still got it. So why should I try?'” says Kennedy, head of a Canadian project monitoring the sociological effects of COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting vaccinated, wearing masks, and receiving medications or antibody treatments can reduce the severity of infection and reduce the chances of infecting others. “We should have talked about this as a community health issue and not a personal health issue,” Chapple-McGruder says. “We are also not talking about the fact that our adoption [of these tools] is far from what we need” to avoid the hundreds of daily deaths.

A lack of data on the extent of coronavirus circulation makes it difficult to say whether the pandemic is ending. In the United States, the influx of home tests was “a blessing and a curse”, says Beth Blauer, chief data officer for Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The tests gave an instant reading that told people if they were infected and should self-isolate. But because these results were rarely reported to public health officials, the true number of cases became difficult to assess, create a big data gap (SN online: 27/05/22).

The flow of COVID-19 data from many state and local agencies has also slowed. In October, even the CDC began reporting cases and deaths weekly instead of daily. All in all, the underestimation of the scope of the coronavirus has become worse than ever.

“We’re told, ‘it’s up to you now what to do,’” Blauer says, “but the data isn’t in place to be able to inform real-time decision-making.”

With COVID-19 fatigue so prevalent, businesses, governments and other institutions need to find ways to step up and do their part, Kennedy says. For example, requiring better ventilation and filtration in public buildings could clean indoor air and reduce the risk of spreading many respiratory infections, as well as COVID-19. It’s a behind-the-scenes intervention that people don’t have to waste their mental energy worrying about, he says.

The Bottom Line: People may have stopped worrying about COVID-19, but the virus isn’t done with us yet. “We’ve been in a long, dark tunnel for two and a half years, and we’re only just beginning to see the light at the end of that tunnel. But it’s still a long way off,” WHO’s Tedros said. is still dark, with many obstacles it could cause us to stumble if we are not careful. If the virus makes a resurgence, will we see it coming and have the energy to fight it again?

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