During the virtual Truth Over Fear Summit held shortly before the election, Mark McDonald, a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, California, noted how fear is driving the coronavirus pandemic and the hysteria surrounding it.
Fear, which has become the new virtue, is causing Americans to turn on fellow citizens caught flouting COVID-19 health protocols, so much so that state governments have lifted most of their restrictions, said McDonald.
In fact, this fear has become so severe that it has reached a state he calls "delusional psychosis." Delusions are beliefs that are contrary to reality. They often indicate an abnormality in an individual's thought process.
Psychosis, on the other hand, refers to when an individual struggles to perceive and correctly interpret reality. Aside from having delusions, an individual suffering from psychosis may even experience hallucinations.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended people's lives worldwide. With this disruption came the race to study the virus in the hopes of developing a cure. But with recent studies on COVID-19 came misinformation.
For instance, governments worldwide enforced lockdowns and quarantine protocols to slow the spread of the virus, fueling people's belief that it spreads like wildfire.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) already stated in March that the influenza or flu virus can spread faster than the COVID-19 virus. The flu is also so common that health authorities can only estimate the yearly infection numbers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Yet the flu does not get a fraction of the attention afforded to COVID-19 in the media. In the last week of July, the flu and pneumonia killed five times more people than COVID-19 in the U.K., hardly making headlines.
Scientists also know that COVID-19 is only possibly life-threatening for certain populations, including people older than 60 years, people with comorbidities and people with chronic respiratory conditions.
In light of this information, McDonald said it appears Americans who have been driven into paranoia by fear can only blame their own laziness, adding that there is readily available information on the internet that they could have easily accessed.
For instance, less than one percent of the population accounts for over 90 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. In addition, most of these deaths occur in people aged at least 70 years, especially those with comorbidities.
Outside this group of people, the general public is not at risk of hospitalization or death should they catch the virus, said McDonald.
Unfortunately, the fear-driven delusional psychosis that afflicts millions of Americans today has led to many disturbing incidents throughout this pandemic. (Related: Coronavirus pandemic linked to increase in "anger and confrontation" among family and friends.)
McDonald himself recounted how, during a recent flight, an attendant had severely berated him for drinking water for more than three minutes. The attendant hounded him for the remainder of the flight.
He was escorted off when the plane landed. Two weeks later, the airline company sent him a letter stating he was banned from flights "in perpetuity" or until the company withdrew its face mask mandate. A person who traveled with McDonald later told him that passengers erupted into applause when he was escorted off.
The insistence on wearing face masks has also led to several heated altercations in groceries, restaurants and other establishments. In most cases, the altercations occurred because mask-wearing customers would insist that fellow customers wear masks. Some customers would also ask other customers to keep their distance.
The altercations would often lead to shouting matches and public humiliation, which would be recorded and posted online to further inspire castigation, this time from social media users.
McDonald said that this "colleague attacking colleague" behavior is something that he has never seen before. He likened this behavior to that seen in China, where the government incentivizes citizens turning on family and neighbors. "This has a terribly damaging effect on our society," McDonald said of the behavior.
With scientists far from developing a cure for COVID-19, things could also get worse. People need to address their misplaced fears first before real progress can be made in dealing with the pandemic, added McDonald.
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