By Rose de la Cruz | Published: October 22, 2020
From the United States to many major cities of Europe, people are weary of isolation and health protocols and are now completely shedding off their guards against the coronavirus pandemic.
This has allowed the virulent virus to vengefully attack causing sharp increases in new cases and deaths.
What is now taking place across the globe is a pandemic fatigue, a public weariness and a growing tendency to risk the dangers of the coronavirus, out of desire or necessity, according to an October 17 article written by Julie Bosman, Sarah Mervosh and Marc Santora.
“With no end in sight, many people are flocking to bars, family parties, bowling alleys, and sporting events much as they did before the virus hit, and others must return to school or work as communities seek to resuscitate economies,” they said.
They Have Had Enough
Exhaustion and impatience are creating new risks as cases soar in many parts of the world.
“They have had enough,” an American mayor said of her residents.
When the coronavirus began sweeping the globe this spring, people from Seattle to Rome to London canceled weddings and vacations, cut off visits with grandparents and hunkered down in their homes for what they thought would be a brief but essential period of isolation.
But summer did not extinguish the virus.
And with fall has come another dangerous, uncontrolled surge of infections that in parts of the world is the worst of the pandemic so far.
Cases Are Rising
The United States surpassed 8 million cases and reported over 70,000 new infections on Oct. 16, the most in a single day since July.
In 18 states new coronavirus infections zoomed during the seven-day stretch ending on Friday than in any other week of the pandemic, they said.
In Europe, cases rise steeply and hospitalizations are up.
Britain is imposing new restrictions, and France has placed cities on “maximum alert” ordering many to close all bars, gyms, and sports centers. Germany and Italy set new records of daily cases.
And leaders in the Czech Republic described their health care system as “in danger of collapsing,” with hospitals overwhelmed and more deaths are occurring than at any time in the pandemic.
Rising Sense Of Apathy
Ann Vossen, a medical microbiologist in the Netherlands, where daily cases doubled this past week, said people across Europe “let go too much.”
“This is the result,” she added.
In parts of the world where the virus is resurging, the outbreaks and a rising sense of apathy are colliding, making for a dangerous combination.
Health officials say the growing impatience is a new challenge as they try to slow the latest outbreaks, and it threatens to exacerbate what they fear is turning into a devastating autumn.
In the US, people are encouraged to let loose by President Trump’s devil-may-care attitude towards COVID-19.
Trump is pushing for herd immunity or, in simplest terms “survival of the fittest.”
This has led to more known cases and deaths than any other country and has already weathered two major coronavirus surges. But a similar phenomenon is sending off alarms across Europe, where researchers from the World Health Organization estimate that half of the population is experiencing “pandemic fatigue”.
“Citizens have made huge sacrifices,” said Dr. Hans Kluge, Director for Europe of the World Health Organization. “It has come at an extraordinary cost, which has exhausted all of us, regardless of where we live, or what we do.”
From Fear To Fatigue
Psychologist Vaile Wright of the American Psychological Association said “things are different now. Fear has really been replaced with fatigue.”
Medical treatments for the virus have vastly improved since the spring, and deaths remain lower than the worst peak, but the latest growth in coronavirus infections has left public health officials worried.
More than 218,000 people have died in the US since the start of the pandemic, and daily reports of deaths have stayed relatively consistent in recent weeks with about 700 a day.
In some parts of the world, behaviors have changed and containment efforts have been tough and effective.
Infections have stayed relatively low for months in places like South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, and China, where the virus first spread.
After a dozen cases were detected in the Chinese city of Qingdao, the authorities sought to test all its 9.5 million residents.
In the US, hot spots are emerging in the South and the Mid-Atlantic region and expanding rapidly in the Midwest and the Mountain West.
In Spain, a summer of travel and dancing has led to a new surge this fall.
In Germany, health authorities on Thursday registered 7,334 infections in a 24-hour period, a national record.
Even Italy, which imposed one of the most sweeping lockdowns in Europe this spring, is now seeing disturbing new growth and considering a 10 p.m. curfew nationwide.
Sick people are telling contact tracers they picked up the virus while trying to return to ordinary, normal life.
Beth Martin, a retired school librarian who is working as a contact tracer in Marathon County, Wisconsin, said she interviewed a family that had become sick through what is now a common situation — at a birthday party for a relative in early October.
“Another case said to me, ‘You know what, it’s my adult son’s fault’,” she recalled. “ ‘He decided to go to a wedding and now we’re all sick’.”
On The Brink Of Catastrophe
In the Czech Republic, a politically divided nation, people met the initial order to shelter at home this spring with an unusual show of unity.
They began a national mask sewing campaign, recognized around the world for its ingenuity.
Confidence in the government, for its handling of the crisis, reached a record 86 percent.
Since then, support for the government response has plummeted, and the country now has the fastest spread rate of the virus in Europe, with roughly 75,000 recorded in the past two weeks, and more than half of the country’s nearly 1,300 deaths have come this month.
Poland is not far behind, with an explosion of new cases and a waning interest in volunteerism.
The country of 38 million has the lowest number of doctors per capita in the European Union, and some doctors are now refusing to join coronavirus teams, concerned about safety protocols.
“We are on the brink of catastrophe,” Pawel Grzesiowski, a prominent Polish immunologist, told the Polish radio station RMF FM.
Alcohol sales in US stores are up 23 percent during the pandemic, according to Nielsen, a figure that could reflect the nation’s anxiety as well as the drop in drinks being sold at restaurants and bars.
Deaths from overdose have risen in many cities.
In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland, there were recently 19 overdose deaths in a single week, far more than most weeks.
“Like a lot of other people, I’ll be happy to see 2020 end,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson, the county’s medical examiner.
In many states, businesses are open and often operating free of restrictions, even as hospitalizations have been driven up by coronavirus patients.
This past week in Wisconsin, a field hospital at the state fairgrounds with a 530-bed capacity was reopened for coronavirus patients.
False Sense Of Complacency
Dr. Michael Landrum, who treats coronavirus patients in Green Bay, Wis., said mask use is more widespread than in the spring, personal protective equipment is easier to come by for hospital workers and treatment of the virus is more sophisticated.
“The scary scenario is the number of patients who really just don’t know where they got it,” Dr. Landrum said. “That suggests to me that it’s out there spreading very easily.”
The challenge ahead, he said, would be convincing people that they need to take significant steps — all over again — to slow down spread that could be even worse than before.
“We’re trying to get people to change their behavior back to being more socially- distanced and more restrictive with their contacts,” Dr. Landrum said.
“There’s been a false sense of complacency. And now it’s just a lot harder to do that.”