As the COVID-19 continues to affect our daily lives and as the case numbers continue to grow, it has created what many in the medical community call “COVID fatigue". Then there are those who aren’t suffering from fatigue because they never took the pandemic seriously to begin with. So how do you approach your friends, family or coworkers about their lackadaisical attitudes?
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health recently published an article that had some great suggestions on how to deal with these issues. Below is a condensed version of the article which was written by Lindsay Smith Rogers and Nick Moran:
For the most part, physical distancing guidelines for interacting with others during the COVID-19 pandemic haven’t changed: Remain six feet or more apart, wear a mask, practice good hand hygiene, and avoid prolonged interactions indoors.
But navigating the interpersonal side of these recommendations can be trickier. Physical distancing runs counter to many of our social norms and complicates the ways we work, celebrate milestones, and generally interact with other humans. Things can get even knottier when people’s boundaries and perceived levels of safety are in conflict.
So, what do you say to a friend who insists that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu? How do you talk to your parents who keep going to restaurants to eat indoors? What if a beloved family member wants you to come to their wedding or birthday party and you don’t feel safe attending?
This guide lays out scenarios like these, and Laura Murray, PhD, clinical psychologist and senior scientist in the Department of Mental Health, weighs in on the interpersonal side of pandemic precautions. Crystal Watson, DrPH, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security, provides practical underpinnings based on current research, data, and public health guidance.
Scenario 1: How do I talk with a friend or family member who doesn’t seem to be taking the COVID-19 threat seriously?
The response should depend on how well you know the individual. In communicating, we always need to keep our relationship in mind, what we know or don’t know about the person, where they are coming from, and how best to interact with them.
Overall, it’s important for the messenger to be aware of their thoughts and emotions going into the conversation. For example, if we go into this conversation angry or frustrated and thinking “They are crazy” then it is unlikely to go well. We won’t come across as compassionate, empathetic, and/or understanding.
For some it may be good to start with a question such as “I’d like to better understand your perspective on this” or “Where are you hearing that?” It’s always good to understand where the information is coming from. For example, maybe they are confused by all the different guidance or getting information from a non-scientific source.
For specific questions, you could say “I’d love to share an article/podcast/post with you because I’m worried about your health—now and in the future.” Here it would be critical to use a source that the person might be responsive to. Less political is usually better—something from a doctor, for example, or even a real-life story written by someone who has been impacted.
The key is to make sure that all of these thoughts are conveyed out of concern.
Since January, the world has tracked almost 24 million cases of COVID-19 and over 815,000 deaths. The U.S. alone accounts for nearly 6 million of those cases and over 178,000 deaths.
COVID-19 is much deadlier than the flu: The virus kills about one in 200 infected people. Seasonal flu kills about one in 1,000 infected people.
Death is not the only consequence to be concerned about with COVID-19 infection. Even with mild or moderate illness, there can be medium-term impacts on lung health, heart health, and cognitive ability in some individuals. The long-term effects are still unknown.
Scenario 2: How can I talk with my parents about their risky behaviors?
Check in with how you are feeling and what you are thinking going into the conversation. Remember that you can’t control others’ behaviors, even those among people you love. Ask yourself: What is your motivation to have this conversation? What are your fears or concerns?
If you decide to speak with loved ones, try to speak with I’s. So instead of saying things like “You need to stop going to eat at restaurants indoors,” try to use statements like “I get really worried when I hear that you are eating indoors at restaurants.”
Another tactic is to ask questions such as “Tell me more about why dining indoors at restaurants is important to you?” Questions like these can help one understand the behavior more—and what the motivations are. Only once we understand what is driving these behaviors can we know how to help change them.
We are understanding more about COVID-19 and its transmission, but it is clear that time spent indoors is risky. Wearing masks indoors is an effective safety measure but people have to take their masks off to eat and drink which negates any risk mitigation.
Even if restaurants are limiting the number of patrons and spreading out indoor tables, poor air circulation and lack of face coverings (because people are eating) is risky. Lower risk from physical distancing does not equate to no risk.
Safer alternatives—which are not completely safe but may be less risky—include outdoor dining and carryout food.
Scenario 3: My friends are having a wedding and I don’t feel safe attending. How can I tell them I don’t want to go?
Take some time before to lay out your goals ahead of the conversation. Consider how you are feeling and what you are thinking about. Write down some notes such as what the wedding means to you and what message you want to convey.
When talking to your friends, use “I statements” and share your sadness, hesitation, or fear of telling them. Instead of rationalizing your decision, try to stick with your emotions.
Be empathetic to any frustration or anger on the friends’ part. We have a tendency to respond with frustration at times. Instead try statements like “I hear you. I might feel the same in your position.” Be prepared that you may have to agree to disagree on this but hopefully can respect each other and remain friends.
There have been outbreaks in weddings of all sizes. Activities like close contact from hugs and dancing increase risk, and weddings keep people together for prolonged periods, providing lots of opportunity for transmission.
You can read the article in its entirety on the John Hopkins website.