As COVID makes another winter comeback, many Californians don’t seem to care

As COVID makes another winter comeback, many Californians don’t seem to care

The Bay Area was a model of cooperation during the early years of the COVID pandemic, as residents holed up in town, lined up for vaccines and wore masks in public. Many locals watched in dismay as health precautions became politicized in other parts of the country.

However, caution did not last even in this conscientious area. As
another winter wave of COVID
affects the region, a large number of people are
renunciation of masks
and
skipping the latest booster
— a key tool in the prevention of serious diseases when immunity from previous vaccinations or infection declines.

Since the advent of vaccines and better treatments for COVID-19 — and the lifting of draconian government measures such as mask mandates — public access
coronavirus
has become
more laissez-faire.
Some call this approach
“figure it out for yourself”
pandemic era. But individual choices still take a heavy toll on vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, some of whom are retreating from the public eye again.

Widespread apathy toward the latest surge is exacerbated by considerable confusion about how to handle this phase of the crisis. In particular, experts say the introduction of the new bivalent vaccine booster — the first to target both the original coronavirus and the omicron family of variants — has been lukewarm. Without a strong marketing push and government resources put into distribution, many Americans are unaware of the benefits of the enhancer, or even of its existence.

“The situation is that people are left to make decisions as individuals,” said Denise Herd, a professor of behavioral sciences at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “Without a lot of information, without a lot of support for some of these public health measures, we’ll see what we do now.”

To date, only 20.5% of eligible Californians have received the bivalent vaccine, leaving the majority more vulnerable to serious illness. Application in California is greater than
national average 14.6%,
but still only a fraction of the 72.5% of people who received the initial two-dose vaccine series. The bivalent vaccine is approved for California residents
older than 6 months,

depending on
when someone completed the initial two-dose series and when they last received the older “monovalent” booster.

Bay Area counties lead the California average in vaccination uptake, but the share is still relatively low, ranging from 23% to 38% of the eligible population. It can contribute
sudden increase in local cases of COVID
in the past month and
increasing number of hospitalizations
which further burden a medical system already burdened by outbreaks of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

‘Pandemic fatigue fatigue’ and confusion

Some pandemic fatigue is “natural, expected and real,” said Marin County Public Health Officer Matt Willis. He noted that the appointment
used since 2020.
Maybe now “we’re getting pandemic fatigue,” Willis said.

After all, the ability to self-regulate “is like a muscle that gets tired,” said Benjamin Rosenberg, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California. “It’s exhausting doing that risk calculation every time you go out,” he said.

AND
recent research by the Chronicle
found that fewer Bay Bay residents are wearing masks to go to the supermarket, despite the current resurgence of COVID. While not a scientific study, the comments offered to reporters — people without masks said they had “given up” and wanted to “get on with life” — highlighted the public health challenge of encouraging voluntary adherence.

It’s easier to make healthy decisions when people have clear, credible and accessible information, and the decision itself is relatively easy to make, said Stanford medicine professor Kevin Schulman, who researched marketing campaigns for the initial vaccines in 2021. But in the current pandemic landscape, he said is Schulman, those attributes are hard to find.

“This is no longer a scientific endeavor that we all follow every week,” Schulman said.

Indeed, Rosenberg added, other “very worthwhile items have replaced COVID at the top of the list of things people want to read about,” whether it’s inflation, layoffs, Ukraine, abortion rights, the Warriors or the weather. And there’s only so much bad news it’s healthy to absorb: Psychologists have actually measured it
an increase in news-related stress,
according to the American Psychological Association.

“Some people literally turn away from information about COVID. It’s almost like an ‘ignorance is bliss’ instinct,” Rosenberg said.

Declining attention reduces cooperation with public health efforts. The September survey showed, for example, that
half of the American public
heard “little or nothing” about the bivalent vaccine.

But tepid messaging and the lack of a massive marketing campaign share the blame, Schulman said. “We don’t put nearly as much effort into this as we do into getting people to vote for somebody,” he said, referring to political ads during the midterm elections.

Information is not reaching the people who need it most, added Debbie Toth, executive director of the Pleasant Hill-based nonprofit Choice in Aging. Older people get their information mainly from radio and television news, and sometimes from local newspapers. “I can tell you that older adults are not going to public health websites to look things up,” she said.

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