According to the report, the virus has sickened more than 5 million Americans, claimed at least 167,000 lives, and wrought financial ruin. Some of the American individuals are strictly following the recommendations of public health experts – forgoing touch, canceling travel, holing up at home with kids while trying to work. Others have balked at the most basic precautions, refusing to wear masks and continuing to gather in large groups.
Also, the psychology and health experts say that the variations in how people respond to public health recommendations can be attributed to differences in how they navigate threats as well as social and cultural factors. And these factors may also influence the people those who are able to sustain behavior changes for the long haul ahead exhausted parents, frayed front-line workers, the millions of Americans worn down by isolation.
Stephen Broomell, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies judgment and decision making under uncertainty said “It is easy to think that people don’t follow the recommendations because they don’t want to, but there are also systemic and situational issues at play that affect people’s behavior,” “These can range from problems with communication, comprehension and personal risk assessment.”
Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, says “Until we get a vaccine, our only real tools are behavioral. We have to think through the lens of behavioral science. What can we do to nudge and encourage and cajole and motivate people to do the right thing?” “I think many people were hoping we would shut everything down for two weeks … and then go back to normal. But since we didn’t do it well enough originally, we are in this ongoing nightmare.”
One of the most persistent gaps in adherence to social distancing, hand-washing, masks, soon vaccines is the difference between Democrats and Republicans. And the recent Gallup poll found 81% of Democrats are willing to be vaccinated if a free and FDA-approved one were available, while 47% of Republicans say the same.
Monica Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says, to fight COVID 19, widespread vaccination is essential, but the Gallup poll found that overall one in three Americans say they won’t get the vaccine when it becomes available, health experts say. To address different causes of vaccine hesitancy different strategies will be needed. People concerned about safety will need reassurance; people of color will need to be engaged in a process that builds trust, and people worried about government overreach will need to be heard.
If people think about some changes as the new normal versus a response to a temporary crisis it may promote the healthy behaviors experts want to see Broomell said. “Exhaustion can come from, among other things, having to pay special attention to your behaviors, waiting for the day you no longer need to perform them, and not knowing when it will end. For certain behaviors, one way to help people maintain vigilance is to establish a norm for their performance,” he said.
People are resilient, and experts say it’s worth reminding Americans what the country has already survived, including two world wars. “If we all pull together for six more months, the vaccines look to be on track and we might be through this,” Van Bavel said. “We might not have to lose our grandparents or colleagues or neighbors. Can you just pull through for six more months doing the right things? Because we’re going to look back and be really devastated if we’ve lost loved ones because we just couldn’t be patient enough.”