Clearer Covid-19 guidelines cause less stress for us all

For almost a year, many of us have watched in anger and frustration as we see others flout public health guidelines. A crisis that could have built social solidarity has pushed us further apart. In a year that has brought countless sources of stress and anxiety, the experience of seeing a friend post about a large indoor gathering on social media, a stranger without a mask, or a celebrity take a lavish international vacation is maddening. Those who are flouting guidelines form a broad spectrum from those confused by conflicting advice or suffering from “pandemic fatigue” to extreme cases that deny the existence of Covid-19 or reject expert consensus safety measures like mask-wearing despite mounting death tolls.

We cannot blame those who are confused by conflicting advice from authorities. The Trump Administration could have introduced centrally coordinated tracing and testing strategies and data-based federal guidelines to uniformly inform local restrictions at the beginning of the pandemic. Instead, states were left to design and enforce their own conflicting public health guidelines. Trump created further chaos by encouraging people to violate emergency orders and “liberate” their states from the most basic safety protocols such as mask-wearing. Residents of some states, like New York, that lived through the trauma of a massive outbreak early in the pandemic have watched in horror as others, like those in Florida, went on about their regular routines, having never been subject to strict public health measures or state mask mandates.

Not only are restrictions conflicting between states but also within the states. In November 2020, Rhode Island residents were prohibited from gathering indoors or outdoors with a single individual from outside their household, but restaurants were allowed to operate indoor dining with 66% capacity, and indoor gyms were operating with limited capacity.

Across the country, people were encouraged not to gather together for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals while watching large groups gather to dine indoors at restaurants or frequent bars. While many understood the motivation to reopen restaurants was to restart the economy, the disconnect between what was done publicly and what was asked of us privately created a discrepancy that was hard to understand. Had the Trump administration provided greater economic security during the pandemic, businesses, individuals and local governments may not have been forced to make such dangerous decisions to preserve their economies and incomes.

Read the full article on Psychology Today.

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.