August Pandemic Time (A.P.T.)

This summer, the current ‘the dog days of August’ also coincide with the COVID-19 pandemic, now five months long, with no end in sight.

Fatigue and frustration, anxiety and uncertainty, are mounting as we move from Stage Two to Stage Threeprotocol in Windsor- Essex County. Strategic grocery shopping, store line-ups, social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, and the looming issue of what September and a return-to-school will look like…this is our new reality. The weight of it is heavy.

In the midst of all this, I read an article in the Toronto Globe & Mail yesterday by a Canadian medical internist, Jillian Horton. It was the most insightful ‘piece’ I have read all summer. Entitled, “If You Find Yourself Starting to Question Pandemic Measures, Remember These Four Words”, here are her key points:

1. We are starting to lose a very important skill called, “situational awareness” - the learned ability to notice and interpret what is happening around us, so we can be prepared for what might happen next. It’s a dangerous trend, she writes, one that leaders around the world are falling into, as well as we citizens.

2. The reasons we are losing our situational awareness are three-fold:

a) In unfamiliar situations, we often revert to a ‘default setting’ known as social proof. We look at what others are doing, in order to guide ourselves with the correct behaviour to follow. We see others not wearing masks and think,hmm…what they’re doing is okay!

b) Our perceptions are often heavily influenced by what we want to be true. This is a thinking mistake known as “affective error” - convincing ourselves that what we ‘want’ to be true IS true. We want to believe that the pandemic has an end in sight, and that we can feel safe interacting and socializing with others. So we relax our social distancing and other health/safety measures prematurely.

c) But the biggest threat to our ability to be ‘situationally aware’ is this: situational awareness requires vigilance and energy. We’re tired of the constant threat we’ve been exposed to and the guidance (rules) we’ve been issued. Our energy is low and our noticing ability is wearing thin. Some minimize the threat, while others actively or passively resist.

The author ends her article with the FOUR WORDS she encourages us all to remember in order to keep our situational awareness intact: THIS IS AN EMERGENCY.
It is not alarmist. It is not unfounded. We continue to live ‘in a state of emergency’.

Personally speaking, my own situational awareness has diminished over the past ten days of vacationing with family, buying a new vehicle, and trying to live life as normal as possible.
I made some mistakes. I looked for social proof. I lost some vigilance. I was overly influenced by what I wanted to be true.

Now, in the dog days of August, I want to encourage all of us to be situationally aware, determined, perseverant, and forever hopeful. But make no mistake, this is STILL an emergency.