Adapt quickly: your control of COVID risk changes over time

Side view of girl with long hair wearing a face mask

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Most people know they can’t control everything that happens to them. However, some people spend years trying to eliminate all problems from their lives. But their attempts are usually doomed. They don’t seem to realise that events are caused by a mixture of factors. Some you can control to some extent, and others you can’t control at all. Until you work out what you can and can’t control, you’re in for a tough time.

The reality is that you usually don’t have total control over all aspects of a situation. On the other hand, you’re not helpless either. So it’s important to know which elements you can change, and which you can’t. Accept those factors that you have no control over. Then you’re free to adapt quickly and focus on those you can do something about.

Let’s take the COVID-19 pandemic as an example.

Our levels of control over our COVID risk have varied from the beginning of the pandemic to the present day.

Initial COVID risk seemed uncontrollable

Health scientists have predicted a pandemic for years. However no-one knew when and where it would happen.

So most countries were unprepared when COVID hit. Health authorities scrambled in panic to identify the virus and contain its spread.

Initially of course, the health risk was far higher than it is now. Many people had little control over their safety. Those worst hit were living in crowded conditions or working outside the home.

Even people in privileged countries felt powerless in the face of rising death tolls.

Partial control of COVID risk

Then we learned we could gain partial control over the infection rate.

The spread of the virus was dampened by stringent lockdowns. In time, softer measures followed. Avoiding crowds, social distancing, hand sanitising, wearing masks, and using QR codes became routine.

Even though many felt resentful, most of us followed the guidelines. We knew this would relieve pressure on health systems. So we took partial control of our own health risk. In return, we expected the reward of vaccines in the future.

Still not in full control

Now we’re dealing with the Omicron variant. Death rates are lower, and vaccination levels in developed countries are higher. Some people think this means that we’re in control of the virus. Others think it’s a good idea to catch the virus, to “get it over and done with.”

So, many people have stopped trying to control the risk to their health. To them, the risks are so small, they’re not worth worrying about.

However, they’re not looking at the whole picture.

It’s true that full vaccination rates will lead to control of the pandemic eventually. However as of 2022, no country has full control over the COVID risk.

In fact, infection levels are still high everywhere. And that means individuals need to adapt to manage their own COVID risk. 

What we can’t control

But several factors make total control of COVID difficult.

1 Vaccination rates

Many countries are struggling to gain enough vaccines. Their populations are also reluctant to be vaccinated. And until everyone is immunised everywhere, we’re all still vulnerable.

2 New variants could appear

New mutations of the virus could appear and spread quickly. This is more likely where people who aren’t fully vaccinated are crowded together.

In fact, a new variant of Omicron has already appeared, and seems to be more highly transmissable.

And the worst case scenario?

If new variants are both deadlier and more infectious, death rates will be higher than before. Without stringent restrictions, we’ll lose all control over the virus.

3 Behaviour of a minority

Those who don’t like vaccines or restrictions are fuelling the spread of Omicron.

And it’s ironic. Unvaccinated people are far more likely to die from COVID than vaccinated people. And yet they resist the jab out of fear it will cause harm.

Unwittingly, they’ve lost all control of their health status. And they’re making it harder for others to control their health risk.

4 Pressure from business and political interests

Business and political interests want restrictions lifted for the good of the economy. But this leaves individuals solely responsible for trying to control their COVID risk. And this is difficult for many people.

Additional considerations

1 Concerns of the vulnerable

Several groups of people risk serious health problems or death if they’re infected. A short list includes those who:

are immunocompromised
can’t be vaccinated for some reason
are over 65 years old
have pre-existing illnesses, such as diabetes, heart issues or cancer
children who show a rare inflammatory illness after COVID.

2 Unknown risks of long-term COVID

A significant number of vaccinated people also don’t want to risk long-term COVID for two reasons. Firstly, we don’t know how much organ damage this causes. And secondly, the effects can last for at least two years.

Freedom for some at the expense of others

Added together, the above groups of people make up a large percentage of any population. Most of them are willing to do whatever they can to control their own health risk.

But they can’t control the way that other people behave. And the demands for greater freedom for some will be at the expense of the health of others.

Managing an uncertain future

So to pretend that we have total control of our COVID risk is unrealistic. There are still many reasons to still try to stop the spread.

However, it’s not a foregone conclusion that you’ll catch COVID. You can still control whether you adapt to the new conditions, and continue to keep yourself as safe as you can.

You can also choose not to carry out any protective behaviours. But then you’ll have to accept the health and financial consequences of that decision.

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