Skepticism and COVID-19

It’s March 2020 as I’m writing this, and the United States (along with most of the world) is in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. One of the things that spreads even faster than the virus is misinformation and panic. What can we do to separate fact from fiction?

Check Sources
This is probably the most obvious but often otherwise intelligence and thoughtful people see news that confirms what they fear or suspect and pass it on without asking if it’s true. Facebook, emails, chat conversations, and texts are always secondhand information by definition. If you want to pass along important information, send it with a link to the source–preferably one in a position to know like the CDC in the US or the WHO for global information.

One way skepticism helps here is to always ask “how do I know that’s true?” when presented with new information. Especially when it concerns physical or mental heatlh.

Try Not to Panic
It’s easy to say “don’t panic” but on its own that it not helpful advice. Rather try to focus on the most immediate needs like “do I have enough food in the house for a day or two?” or “if the stores are out of bread, can I make a loaf from scratch?” People see empty shelves in stores and their thoughts go immediately to “oh no, there’s no more toilet paper and there may never be again!” In reality, stores stock enough for the usual restocking levels and when people buy all of it at once it looks scary. In a first world country we’re used to always seeing full shelves and never having to wonder about whether we can get something we want. It’s an amazing privilege that many people in the world don’t have. Manufacturers have not stopped making toilet paper or baking bread and those items will be back on stores shelves. In the meantime, what alternatives do you have? Many of the ingredients to make food are still on shelves even if the finished products are selling out. Maybe you could check a local butcher instead of the big chain stores if you are trying to find meat. If you run out of toilet paper you can use napkins, paper towels, or tissues for a few days (just don’t flush them and back up your sewer system). That last one may sound gross but reality is that we’ll have to make due.

The biggest thing to emphasize here is do not panic buy when stores do restock. Buy what you need and don’t hoard things that you don’t.

Think of the Long Term
Right now there are some severe health and economic impacts from the virus but the world has weathered much worse. Wars, famines, bubonic plague, and the like have devastated populations far more significantly than COVID-19. We are still here to talk about it. We are seeing incredible advances in teleworking technologies, cooperation on vaccine research, and environmental benefits from so many fewer cars and planes in use. When this outbreak is over, let’s take stock of the positives we are discovering and try to keep some of our good habits from a bad time.

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