In the nearly two years of this pandemic, we have endured not only illness, loss and social isolation, but also the mentally exhausting calculations of how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe under constantly changing variants, infection rates and vaccine protections.
From early on, we had to learn to avoid falling into what psychologists refer to as “all or nothing” thinking — the logical fallacy that either a given situation is a complete success or total failure. Many of us used this distorted way of thinking to conclude that if we couldn’t be completely isolated from potential infection, then we might as well not even try.
This false dichotomy was obviously a bad method of risk assessment — the equivalent of someone claiming they can drive drunk every day because they did it once. But it was tempting in its simplicity, and some of us were more susceptible to it than others.
We all knew (or were) a friend who said she might as well go to restaurants since she was already facing exposure at the workplace. We all had (or were) the uncle who argued in the Zoom call planning an outdoor reunion that some weakness in the plan meant that we might as well just gather comfortably inside without masks.
Over time, however, most of us learned to think more in terms of probabilities than absolutes, shades of gray rather than black or white — even as we might have different opinions about the levels of risk and reward in various activities.
You might think that this collective learning process would have helped in recent months as we found ourselves confronted with the latest new variables in the ever-evolving COVID calculus: a mostly vaccinated population and a new Omicron variant that is highly contagious, less lethal for most vaccinated people than its predecessor, but still very dangerous for vulnerable populations.
Instead, politicians, CEOs and even public health leaders have led a coordinated campaign of regression back into the simplistic and disastrous variant of “all or nothing”: We can’t completely eradicate COVID, so let’s stop even trying to reduce and slow its spread.
During the highest spike in COVID yet, some governors refused to revive mask mandates, mayors have…