As of this writing, a novel strain of coronavirus which goes by the name COVID-19 is sweeping the entire planet.
The virus was first spotted in Wuhan, China at around November 2019 and spread at lightning speed in first China, then the rest of the world due to its high contagiousness and the unprecedented global connectivity that we have as a planet.
Human Biases Behind the Reaction to Coronavirus Pandemic
The reaction of the people of the world to coronavirus pandemic range from “there’s nothing to fear, it’s just the flu” to “the world is ending, we’re doomed”.
People in the first camp suffer from normalcy bias. The people in the second camp suffer from a combination of 3 different biases (negativity, availability and confirmation biases) triggered primarily by following the news and social media.
“There’s nothing to fear, it’s just the flu” people are victims of normalcy bias which is described as the tendency for people to believe that things will function in the future the way they normally have functioned in the past, which leads them to underestimate both the likelihood of a disaster and its possible effects.
Normalcy bias is claimed to explain why people in Pompeii watched for hours when volcano Vesuvius erupted instead of evacuating, why thousands of people refused to leave New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached, and why at least 70% of 9/11 survivors spoke with others before leaving. It’s also associated with the behavior of people in disasters of Titanic and Fukushima. 1
Negativity, Availability and Confirmation Biases
“The world is ending, we’re doomed” people are victims of a combination of negativity, availability and confirmation biases triggered primarily by following the news and social media.
Negativity bias is about the human tendency to focus on the negative events, which the news media exploits to the max. Humans tend to be driven by more by the fear of loss than the desire to gain 2 which is what makes negative news so irresistible to the human psyche.
The availability heuristic, also known as availability bias, (which is described as a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision) adds fuel to the fire by causing people to overestimate the importance of the pandemic since the media focuses primarily on news about coronavirus.
Confirmation bias, which is the tendency of humans to interpret new information in a way to confirm their pre-existing beliefs, causes people to interpret new pieces of news on coronavirus pandemic as a confirmation that the world is ending even when the new information is pointing at the other direction.
In summary, humans are drawn to negative news which compels them to follow the news about coronavirus pandemic (negativity bias), tend to overestimate its significance (availability heuristic) and evaluate the inflow of new information as a confirmation of their already negative views. 3
The Truth Stripped off the Biases
Since biases are basically errors in thinking, I think it’s safe to say that the truth about the novel coronavirus is somewhere in between, as in, it’s not as simple as the flu and also the world is not ending. I realize that the situation is serious but I also trust humanity to overcome this.
It should be more serious than the flu because, as a general rule, it’s best to watch what people do instead of listening to what they say.
China locking down entire regions with millions of residents risking an economic collapse spoke volumes about the severity of COVID-19 which was a huge sign that this thing was a lot more serious than just the flu, especially when you consider that they hadn’t locked down or quarantined entire cities for weeks on end with the previous strains of coronavirus such as Sars which also had originated in China.
Despite China buying at least a month of time for the rest of the world to get prepared, most governments of the world including the western governments managed to get caught with their pants down which can be explained by the usual incompetence of the government structure and the tendency of the governments to prioritize the economy over human life.
For now, the strategy around the world is to focus on slowing the spread of the virus to prevent the healthcare systems from overloading with coronavirus patients in critical condition since an overwhelmed healthcare system invites a slew of problems even more serious than the virus itself.
There are a lot of things that we don’t know so far about the novel coronavirus so let’s look at what we already know (and don’t know for that matter) before we can figure out a way to react to what’s going on around the world.
What We Know (And Don’t Know) So Far
What we know about this novel coronavirus is that…
- It’s highly contagious because each new person can spread the disease to about 2.2 people on average which makes the virus spread exponentially. 4
- It can be deadly for people over 70 and people of all ages who have pre-existing health conditions such as chronic respiratory, heart, kidney, and liver diseases, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. 5
- There are no vaccines against it so you rely entirely on your immune system to overcome the novel coronavirus should you contract it.
- Mortality rates remain unclear as most countries aren’t testing enough people and asymptomatic infected people often remain untested.
We are not yet sure if the virus weakens when the weather is warmer. Some experts say that the novel coronavirus hates sunlight and warmer spring and summer weather may slow down the spread of the virus which potentially is good news for people living in the northern hemisphere since summer is approaching and bad news for people living in the southern hemisphere since winter is approaching. None of the tropical countries are hit as hard as China or Italy did so far, which might be about the fact that tropical countries have warmer climates all year round.
We don’t know if a vaccine or medicine against the virus will be discovered or not, and if so when.
Future effects of the virus are a matter of speculation which I’m inclined to stay away from for the simple reason that humans are bad at predicting the future. What happens to the economy and the world in general as a result of this pandemic is largely beyond our individual control so I refuse to ponder about speculations.
One thing is sure that the governments will bail out the bankrupt corporations as they always do, small businesses be damned. The rich and powerful will continue to screw the regular citizens as they always did throughout history. It’s only rational to expect history to repeat itself.
I can only hope that your business doesn’t go bankrupt if you have one or you don’t lose your job during the inevitable but hopefully temporary economic slump.
Since there’s not much use in worrying about the things that you can’t control, let’s look at how you can focus on what you can control, which are a lot, actually.
Your Circle of Control
You can’t control the global economy, the efficiency of the healthcare system in your country, what governments do or how other people react to the virus but you can control your own actions and reactions for that matter. You can control the things within your circle of control until we get a better grip on this and we start to know more about what we don’t know so far.
The Importance of Maintaining Good Health
If this virus did any favors to humanity, it reminded people of the importance of personal hygiene and a strong immune system.
See, the people who are more vulnerable to the dangers of the virus are the people over 70 and all people who have pre-existing health conditions such as chronic respiratory, heart, kidney, and liver diseases, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
There’s nothing you can do about your age but almost all of the health conditions that leave people vulnerable to coronavirus regardless of age are listed as preventable diseases by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
According to the CDC, four personal behaviors that can affect chronic diseases are:
- lack of physical activity,
- poor nutrition,
- tobacco use, and
- excessive alcohol consumption.
All of these factors are within your circle of control. You can improve your physical activity and nutrition. You can refuse to drink or smoke.
Later in the article, we’ll talk more about physical activity and the workouts you can do at home.
It’s Better to Be Safe than Sorry
The dangers of the virus are probably overblown but there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding it.
I’m in the same boat with Nassim Taleb who wrote this on Twitter about people being paranoid over the novel coronavirus:
I believe that it’s always better to err on the safer side. For example, I’ve been driving for more than 20 years. For multiple thousands of times that I got on the driver’s seat, I put on my seatbelt. I did this even when I had rinky-dink cars with no seatbelt alarm to force me to put on my seatbelt. I never had an accident where I was saved by a seatbelt but I will keep on wearing them as long as I drive.
The point is that this virus is novel and unpredictable and humanity hasn’t built herd immunity against it yet. We’ll have to wait for a while until we get a better grip on this pandemic. Until then, erring on the cautious side is the way to go.
You also don’t want to be sick especially when hospitals are full. You don’t want to go to an overcrowded hospital for ANY reason. Besides, even if your immune system is currently strong, you suddenly become vulnerable to the virus should you receive an injury that temporarily impairs your immune system.
For all of these reasons, it’s better to be extra cautious about your health these days.
It’s also a good idea to stock up on food even if there’s only a faint chance that stores run out of food. You probably won’t suffer from food shortages but again, it’s better to err on the cautious side. You’ll consume the food you stock up anyway so you can’t lose. The worst-case scenario is you’ll end up not consuming all the food you store in which case you can give it to the people in need.
Wear Masks or Cover Your Mouth and Nose with Clothing When Outside
There have been rumors that masks don’t protect you against coronavirus but they rather prevent sick people from spreading the virus. I call it bullshit. It’s amazing that most people don’t realize the irrationality of this argument. If it helps prevent the virus from spreading, it should also prevent you from contracting it. Anything otherwise is against the laws of physics.
I believe that the lie that masks don’t protect you from contracting the virus is peddled in order to stop people from using masks so that health professionals don’t face a shortage of them but I don’t know why they don’t recommend people to make their own masks or at least cover their faces with a piece of clothing when outside. In 2006, the CDC published a guideline on simple respiratory masks that explained how to make your own mask against infections but now, strangely, masks are dismissed as unprotective.
Don’t fall for the lies they peddle. Masks DO protect you. Either obtain masks or if you can’t, make your own masks or cover your mouth and nose with a piece of clothing (such as a scarf) when outside.
Stay Home As Much As You Can
According to the CDC, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
Social isolation seems to prevent the virus from spreading. As we’ve discussed above, one of the problems with COVID-19 is that it’s highly contagious which causes it to spread exponentially. This creates the problem of overloading the healthcare system.
COVID-19 simulations also point to social isolation to prevent or at least slow down the spread of the virus. Slowing down the spread of coronavirus is essential for flattening the curve to prevent overloading the healthcare system.
The guidance of history also points to isolation. The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic infected 500 million people and the death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million.
Here’s what a recent paper released in 2007 entitled Economic Effects of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic – Implications for a Modern-day Pandemic has to say about how to contain the virus:
To prevent spread, quarantines would have to be complete (i.e., no activity allowed outside of the home). Partial quarantines, such as closing schools and churches but not public transportation or restaurants (as done in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.) would do little to stop the spread of influenza.
According to another report by New York University, the belief that “nothing can be done” is false, dangerous and even fatalistic.
Coronavirus doesn’t walk around, people do. Even for healthy people who have a strong immune system, staying at home prevents the virus from spreading which helps prevent the healthcare system from overloading.
So stay home as much as you can until humanity figures out a way to deal with this pandemic.
3 Ways to Benefit from Staying Home
Staying home sucks but it doesn’t mean you can’t use it to your advantage and come out better on the other side when this thing finishes.
Here are 3 ways to benefit from staying home:
1. Stop Following the News
I’ve previously written about why you should stop following the news (and social media for that matter) and there’s no better time to implement that strategy when the world is being shaken by the coronavirus pandemic and there is a constant flow of fresh pieces of news every second.
Every day you wake up to a different world so it’s tempting to frantically check the news and get more worried, which weakens your immune system and you also get nothing done in the process.
Look, no matter how tempting it is to follow the news especially amid a pandemic, most of what you follow is beyond your circle of control which means there’s nothing you can do about them. If something important or relevant happens, you’ll hear about it anyway either from friends or family.
Following the news for hours on end won’t change anything and besides, the news is a bad source of truthful information. It’s always better to get information from scientists rather than news outlets. Boring but true scientific data is better than sensational but fake news.
It’s more than enough to skim the headlines for a few minutes in the morning and evening and maybe check the details of a few pieces of news that’s relevant to you and you can’t afford to miss. That’s all.
The best part of this strategy is that when everyone else is consumed with an endless stream of news, you can use your time to improve yourself and create a competitive advantage over others.
2. Use Your Free Time To Improve Yourself
Fret not if you’re stuck at home with a lot of free time in your hands. You can use this opportunity to improve yourself.
Time is your most precious asset that you never get back should you waste it. When it’s gone it’s gone. Instead of wasting it by doing nothing or worse, frantically following the news and getting yourself more worried about the virus, use your time for something productive.
Have you been intending to start learning a language? Learning how to play an instrument? Learning how to draw? Starting a blog? Writing a book? Starting an online business? Read more books? Lose weight? Build muscle?
All of these you can do when you self-isolate instead of following the news or lamenting your luck that you are stuck at home. You can also follow Be a Better Man in 30 Days program and improve your life on all fronts. Just don’t let your time go to waste.
3. Start Bodyweight Training
Fret also not if your gym is closed or you can’t go outside for a walk due to quarantine or a lockdown. I’ve got you covered here too.
If you are stuck at home due to coronavirus, this is an excellent time to start a bodyweight training program and strengthen your immune system and lung capacity in the process.
Bodyweight training is also a great way to start strength training if you never had the chance to train for strength.
Strength training is the best type of training because it makes you look better and younger, helps you burn fat by speeding up your metabolism and it’s also proven to prevent diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer which are all risk factors for the novel coronavirus as well.