Until a vaccine or some other form of successful treatment regimen becomes widely available to the general public, scientists will continue to study the novel coronavirus and the effects on the human body of the disease the virus causes, COVID-19.
Science builds reliable knowledge about the natural world. It is a complicated field with a simple premise: There are natural causes for things that happen in the world around us, and we can use evidence from the natural world to learn about those causes, which are observable, consistent, repeatable, and predictable.
Scientists work day after day to understand diseases, old and new.
They do this all the time, not just in the midst of a pandemic.
We are still alive because scientists never stop exploring, experimenting, and explaining how the world works, and what we need to do to remain safe and healthy in it.
Their work is often relentless, exhausting, frustrating, dangerous, scary, and thankless.
But our lives depend on it and on those who do it.
Even now, while we sip our coffee and read the Saturday paper, there are researchers around the globe working to learn about the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can know more, slow, then stop the spread, and hopefully engineer a return to normalcy as soon and as safely as we can.
Because science is an ongoing event based on observation and experimentation, the learning process is often very public.
For instance, scientists once said that wearing a mask may not help slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Now, however, the guidance has pivoted 180 degrees, and masks are not only advised but are required.
This seeming “waffling” has confused and frustrated many, generating a suspicion not only about government officials and public leaders, but about scientific researchers, and even science itself.
This is completely understandable.
But this is how science works. New information brings new knowledge mandating new public responses.
Figuring out a new virus is like firing at a moving target. Sometimes we get it right, but not always.
I have thought that maybe the different kinds of guidance is what has generated so much negativity and infighting when it comes to something like the wearing of masks.
Controversy over mask usage has intensified as states began to reopen and ease up restrictions, only to see those restrictions restored as the ongoing spike in cases is being observed.
I’ve thought maybe the earlier science, before we knew as much as we do now, might have been confusing and, thus, might have bred some suspicion or denial about the importance of protecting others from our potentially spreading the virus, though we ourselves may be asymptomatic.
That would make sense.
But I think generalized resistance to masks is more than that.
Mask usage seems to fall along party lines by my casual observance.
How did protective equipment become so politicized?
We wear seatbelts, stop at stop signs, and strip down at airports, all without so much as a groan.
But the guidance to wear a mask has us heated.
The reason is this: This virus is new, the pandemic is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
Newness and discomfort breed anxiety and fear.
In that climate, we cling to whatever makes us feel safe in the moment.
With an increase in threatening conditions, we are in a communal “fight or flight” state, and for some, the “fight” and the upset and the fear is being directed at government officials and their guidance and mandates for the protection of the people.
In moments like this, we become hyper-vigilant to threat of any kind.
The rug has been pulled out from under us, and, as our adrenaline surges, we react wit anger, fight-readiness, suspicion, disbelief, and outrage.
It is understandable, but it doesn’t really help.
It is apparent that we will not all agree with the guidance offered by scientists, and for many reasons.
But we all do agree on this: We want to get back to something like life before COVID-19.
Sadly, there is no genie in a bottle who can wiggle her nose and take us into a safer future.
But, while scientists do their part in labs across the globe, we can do our part, too.
You are going to do what you’re going to do when it comes to wearing a mask, and no one can be convinced to do or think something when s/he is not open to being convinced.
I get it.
But let’s be smart together, following the guidance of people who spend their lives trying to protect us and keep us safe.
Let’s rise above our natural instincts and, with reason, do whatever we can to protect one another kindly and calmly.
If it’s a safety, control, comfort, and freedom we want during these anxious times, let’s work together to ensure that all of us can have it.
Dr. Jonathan Eric Carroll, KLPC, NCPC, NCCE, is a state-licensed mental health professional, is an ACPE Psychotherapist, and is the Founder of The Clinic @ The Montgomery in downtown Owensboro. Dr. Carroll serves as the Grief Therapist for six funeral homes in the region. He also co-created and cohosts “You’ll Die Trying,” a podcast available everywhere. Visit www.themontgomeryclinic.com.