In recent days, government officials and public health experts have made dire warnings about the catastrophic risk the coronavirus poses to the American public. Those messages have also included instructions on preventing the spread of the virus — most crucially avoiding contact with other people through social distancing.
Despite these warnings and the flood of news coverage explaining the risks, many people have chosen to ignore safety advisories. Bars in several cities were packed with customers over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. Beaches on the coasts teem with spring break revelers. Social media has featured countless posts from frustrated people whose loved ones have refused to cancel their social schedule.
Polling shows that less than half of Americans see the virus as “a real threat,” and large numbers are still going about their normal routine. Older people are less likely to be worried than younger generations, some polls suggest, even though the risk of death is substantially higher for people over 65.
Why there’s debate
There are a variety of explanations offered for why so much of the public isn’t taking the outbreak seriously. Many have pointed to President Trump, who for weeks downplayed the risk of a crisis before recently pivoting to a more urgent message. This same pattern took place in conservative media, specifically on Fox News. Polling shows conservatives have been less worried about the virus than liberals.
The lack of available tests has suppressed the number of known cases in the country, which may be causing some people to think the virus is less pervasive than it really is. The motivation for ignoring social distancing may vary between generations. Younger people may have taken warnings about the dangers to the elderly as reason to believe they’re safe. Baby boomers, on the other hand, may not consider themselves to be “old” because they are generally healthier and more active at their ages than previous generations.