COVID-19 milestone: World races toward one million deaths, leaders plead ‘stay the course’

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The latest forecast from a University of Washington research institute is projecting a deadly December, with up to 30,000 deaths a day, globally.

But here is where “psychic numbing,” as University of Oregon psychologist Paul Slovic has described it, comes into play. One person in distress will shock us, Slovic said. “Once you get into the hundreds or thousands or millions, these are just numbers,” Slovic said. What resonate are stories about individual lives touched by the pandemic.

Yet the incidence of COVID-19 is still low. In Canada, studies suggest as few as 0.7 per cent of adults have been exposed to the virus. “Most of the time you don’t know many people who have been ill, if any. You look around — everything looks fine, people seem healthy,” Slovic said.

Lacking therapies or vaccines, it boils down to distancing and masks and sometimes lockdowns

The grim milestones, the prominent numbers, briefly catch our attention, “but they’re not going to change our behaviour,” Slovic said. “We’re not suddenly going to say, oh, it’s 200,000 (deaths) now, I’m really going to have to do something.”

“Lacking therapies or vaccines, it boils down to distancing and masks and sometimes lockdowns — that’s what’s needed,” Slovic said.

But it’s hard to maintain that vigilance, because to keep motivating people to do something has to come with some reward. “The rewards and cost of doing the right thing or wrong thing are kind of backwards” for the coronavirus, Slovic said. “When you put that mask on or you avoid doing something you want to do and stay away from something you want to do, you don’t feel immediate benefit, but you feel a cost.”

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