COVID-19 Is Still Scary, Now More Than Ever

Certain fear promoted by clear guidelines is what will allow us to channel our fears and do our part to stop the spread of this horrendous virus.

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By Mandy Li

Humans are afraid of many things, from spiders, to clowns, to carnivorous beasts, or even just the thought of death. At the root of all these fears is the fear of the unknown. We think we know everything, so when we discover something unfamiliar, it becomes scary. This fear of uncertainty mostly kept us indoors for the first wave of COVID-19 while also fostering paranoia. For the second wave, we must use not our primal fear of the unknown, but the fear of the certain and promote it with clear guidelines.

Fear has a negative connotation, but in regard to coronavirus, it was a good thing. For months, no one was sure of the effects of COVID-19. Its uncertainty kept us indoors and social distancing. We feared for the health of ourselves and those around us. We knew that even if we didn’t have the virus, we wouldn’t go near anyone or anything that might. The logic made sense considering that the March COVID-19 positivity rate was up to 68.5 percent in Queens. With the number of new cases increasing rapidly all over the United States, the same action is necessary. But now, many will not comply. Something is wrong with the initial fear.

The issue with fearing because of uncertainty is that this type of fear diminishes. We all feel the quarantine burnout that pushes us to leave our homes and spend time with our loved ones. We slap on a mask and believe that it has solved our problems. But wearing a mask is not enough. Think about the virus as paint. If we don’t want the paint to touch our mouths or noses but we still touch it with our hands, there’s a chance that we might not wash it off completely. The paint might get on our phones, clothes, and eventually our faces. If we stay away from people, we eliminate all risk. This would be possible if we embraced something I call “certain fear,” a phrase referring to fear due to certainty of the consequences.

The difference between uncertain and certain fear is that the latter gives us a reason to be afraid. When we remember what has already happened because of COVID-19, it keeps us from acting on selfish impulses that lead to being complicit in the deaths of thousands. Impulses affect everyone, but our fear of consequences can push us to learn more about the virus and control our actions. The information is at our disposal, and we can create certain fear by using that knowledge to be aware of how we affect our surroundings. The right type of fear conditions us to think before we act.

The other problem that occurred early on in the pandemic was that instead of having the right amount of fear, we had paranoia and downright panic. In an attempt to prevent the panic, President Trump had downplayed the potential effects of the virus, but his actions led to even more panic. There was distrust in the government, which caused people to prepare for an apocalypse and scapegoat China for the faults of the American government. People weren’t sure of how afraid they should be, and it caused chaos.

To have the right amount of fear, there must be guidelines on how to act during a pandemic. Fear makes sense when we know exactly what to do to prevent the situation from getting worse. We can create a controlled amount of fear with clear behavior protocols, which are something the presidential administration must be pressured to work on now.

While these protocols are being written, we have to channel our certain fear in the right way. We have experience with the virus and have to source our fear from knowing the consequences. We stay indoors because the risk is too high to mingle, even with a mask. We only buy what we need because otherwise, there will be chaos in supermarkets. We remember not to blame demographics who had no control over the virus. If we take these steps, we can find a way out.