Over the past few weeks, Carlos Martinez has been eyeing the news for coronavirus coverage.
All the while, his partner shrugs off his concerns.
“[She] would dismiss it every time she saw me watching the news,” Martinez told me. “She would make comments like ‘it’s just the flu’ or ‘the government is making a big deal out of this.'”
Martinez, a photographer in Toronto, first started taking the coronavirus seriously when an old coworker posted about her lockdown while stuck in Wuhan, China — the area . The old colleague had traveled there in January to celebrate Chinese New Year and witnessed the city become locked down.
While Martinez makes efforts to stay safe, he said his partner does not share the same sentiment — and he is not alone. While the severity of the coronavirus pandemic seems obvious to some, not everyone shares this view; the divide between those taking serious precautions and those not can be seen even in individual households.
Kathleen, a 25-year-old in Philadelphia, is having the same issue as Martinez — only with her roommates. The digital marketing specialist, who requested to be referred to by her first name only for privacy concerns, said she started taking the crisis seriously before traveling to Ireland in the first week of March.
“She would make comments like ‘it’s just the flu’ or ‘the government is making a big deal out of this.'”
She returned stateside on March 15 and told me that her roommates have only begun to feel moderately concerned last week. As of March 30, confirmed cases of COVID-19, the official name for the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Even though her roommates are moderately concerned, Kathleen believes they are not taking precautions. One of them works at a grocery store and, according to Kathleen, does not take proper steps against bringing home germs. Her other roommate has not adhered to social distancing by going shopping more than necessary and visiting family and friends.
Kathleen told Mashable that she does not leave the house aside for a few walks, and is growing increasingly nervous when it comes to her roommates.
Similar to Kathleen, Erika, a 28-year-old woman in Florida, is living with people not taking coronavirus seriously. In her case, it’s her in-laws, who go outside to shop three times a day according to Erika.
Erika, who requested to go by another name to keep her privacy, and her husband, a coach in the NCAA, realized the situation was serious when sporting events were canceled. Her in-laws, who are over 75, as well as her husband’s 93-year-old grandmother, were already visiting them from out-of-state. When the situation got worse in their home state, they decided to stay with Erika and her husband indefinitely.
“We are not in a state on lockdown and most stores are still open,” Erika told me, “so we think this contributes to their reluctance to change their daily routines.”
There are a multitude of reasons why a loved one or roommate may not take the pandemic seriously, according to . Hertlein, a professor with the couple and family therapy program within the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ School of Medicine, told Mashable that past experiences, defensiveness, or an ability to be highly adaptable in many situations can be some reasons behind someone not taking extra precautions.
Furthermore, it may be hard for people to grasp something they cannot see. “We’ve evolved to learn from personal experience, not from statistics and theory,” Viktor Sander, a counselor at , told Mashable. “These individuals usually change their minds when they have a personal experience to draw conclusions from.” That means, unfortunately, they would change their mind if someone close to them or they themselves were diagnosed with coronavirus.
Martinez does not understand his significant other’s blasé attitude towards COVID-19, given that she works in a clinic that tests blood samples. “I figured this would be something she would take more serious [sic],” he said.
“There are things she does that makes me take a step back and think if this is the hill I wanna die on when I notice something irresponsible,” he continued. This includes washing her hands for only five seconds (the ) and not treating hand-washing as a priority after being in public, say at the grocery store.
“It’s hard because I notice these things and don’t want to call her out on it each time because it’s annoying for me and I’m sure she’ll get annoyed with me,” said Martinez. “For now I have been biting my tongue for most of the time but if I feel the need to speak up, I will tell her straight up.”
While it’s not possible to control someone’s beliefs or actions, there are some steps one can take to try to convince or help convince them of the coronavirus’s severity.
“These individuals usually change their minds when they have a personal experience to draw conclusions from.”
A common mistake is to end up in an argument, according to Sander. This can make it seem like you and your partner or roommate or whomever are no longer on the same “team.” Rather, Sander suggested that you bring empathy and understanding into the conversation. What do you agree with them on? Let them know.
“Now that you are in the same camp so to speak, you can give factual arguments for why it can still be good to wash your hands, avoid contact, or self-isolate,” said Sander. For example, you can tell your partner you know the risk of you yourself being in danger is low, but taking actions like thoroughly washing hands and social distancing can save other lives.
This goes into another tactic that Dr. Hertlein suggested: appealing to their sense of being a responsible partner. “Convince them that it is important to YOU and your well-being,” Dr. Hertlein said, “and that while the pandemic might not be important, the relationship and the partner who is cautious are certainly important.”
Dr. Rebecca Cowan, the core faculty member in Walden University’s program, had similar advice: Have a discussion about your concerns, but don’t point fingers. “Attempt to come to a mutual agreement about how you plan to cohabitate throughout the coronavirus pandemic,” Cowan told Mashable. “It is best to have this conversation as soon as possible to reduce unnecessary stress and tension.”
It’s difficult to spend one’s life, to begin with; add in the uncertainty of when we can “return to normal” (whatever normal may even be), and one may be empathetic to the hesitation and fear that goes into wanting to pretend everything is normal. As the pandemic and governmental responses unfold, however, those who did not take it seriously now may soon change their attitudes.
Deep down, Erika believes her in-laws are scared and changing their routines is a scary concept — admitting the problem is real.
“Hard to say but we really wish they’d be more careful,” Erika said. “We want to stay safe and we want them healthy.”