On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data that suggests the number of people infected with the coronavirus in different parts of the United States is anywhere from two to 13 times higher than the reported rates for those regions.
“These data continue to show that the number of people who have been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 far exceeds the number of reported cases,” Dr. Fiona Havers, the researcher who led the study explained to The New York Times. “Many of these people likely had no symptoms or mild illness and may have had no idea that they were infected.” The report goes on to say that roughly 40% of infected people do not develop symptoms but may still pass the virus on to others.
Earlier in the week, as it was reported that Florida’s coronavirus cases were continuing to reach record numbers, Gov. Ron DeSantis complained that such headlines were unfairly terrifying people because the news lacks the “appropriate context and perspective.”
“It’s important to put that in context because I think a lot of people see cases — I think they get really, really scared, and my message is fear is our enemy,” Yahoo News reported DeSantis saying. He has a point.
At the same time, people’s sense of fear is a “finely calibrated alarm system,” Time magazine’s Eva Holland reported in March. It can spread like a virus, racing through a crowd, and it is contagious. While posted numbers, always alarming, seem to shift like the wind, making it hard to settle on a shared narrative, the pandemic drags on with no visible endpoint in sight — only more doom-and-gloom news filling the hours stoking fear and feeding despair.
People have developed a habit of nonstop scrolling through the bad news to the point of self-destructive behavior. It is now so common it has its own defining title: “doomscrolling.”
Clinical psychologist Dr. Amelia Aldao tells NPR that doomscrolling traps us in a “vicious cycle of negativity” that fuels our anxiety. According to the NPR report, the practice of doomscrolling is a normalized behavior for a lot of journalists.
“Our minds are wired to look out for threats,” she says. “The more time we spend scrolling, the more we find those dangers, the more we get sucked into them, the more anxious we get.” The grim content can throw a dark filter on how you see the world, she says.
Aldao is the director of Together CBT, a clinic that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and works with her patients to cut back on doomscrolling. Among her recommendations is to set limits to how much they are scrolling and to literally set a timer to hold them to it. Try to swap the “vicious cycles” for “virtuous cycles” and connecting with friends with more time spent building positive emotions.
At the start of the lockdown, social scientists expressed one of their own fears — that required physical distancing would spark another epidemic of loneliness, already at a high level in our country. As reported by NPR, several new studies suggest that huge increase in loneliness has yet to come to pass
At the beginning of the lockdown, behavioral scientists at Florida State University College of Medicine realized they had a unique opportunity to measure the effects of physical isolation on loneliness.
“The thing that everybody thought was going to happen didn’t happen,” says Angelina Sutin, an associate professor of behavioral sciences at Florida State University College of Medicine who participated in the study. While she admits there are limits to what can be concluded from the findings, they observed that as the pandemic shuttered many stores and businesses, neighbors began to rely on one another more.
“I was seeing a real outpouring of communities really trying to band together and look out for neighbors and for those who might be most vulnerable,” she tells NPR, “and there was the hope that that would mitigate some of the effects of what was going on.”
There have been other hints of resilience in neighborhoods and communities across the U.S. from research conducted by Johns Hopkins University as well as two ongoing studies conducted by research psychologists at the University of Washington that point toward the results found in the Florida research.
“That sense of solidarity that people are feeling when they are collectively under some threat together — when they are collectively going through a challenge together — seems to be a real strong protective factor,” research psychologist Jonathan Kanter of the University of Washington adds.
Researchers stressed that it is important to not lose sight of the relatively high background level of loneliness that existed in American culture before the pandemic, which has continued. But people are finding ways to connect and to keep relationships going.
In the U.S. and around the world, people are phoning one another, signing onto Zoom meetings, and having porch-to-porch or fire escape-to-fire escape chats as they realize that relationships do not have to include physical proximity to continue.
“The challenges of coping with life during a pandemic continue to evolve,” write Steven Jay Lynn, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University, and graduate student Craig Polizzi in The Conversation.
“Human beings are astonishingly resilient and have prevailed over mass traumas and tragedies before — the COVID-19 pandemic will be no exception. People have proved again and again that it’s possible to forge on and even thrive during periods of turmoil and transition,” they write.
Such messages of human resilience are an important point lost in the fold of ever-changing numbers.