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Column: In pandemic, fear as widespread as COVID
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

When our youngest was a toddler, he would get in his little plastic car and ride down the driveway backward, not a care in the world. There was no thought to whether he might crash into the grass, the pavement or roll right into the street in front of a car. He was fearless.

Now, on some occasions, he’s got an unhealthy dose of fear — it took a lot of convincing to assuage his fears of the tooth fairy. Then again, a magical little creature coming into your room in the middle of the night to steal something from under your pillow is kind of terrifying. When he gets scared like that, he can freeze up, seemingly unable to listen to reason or make a decision about anything. 

The old fight or flight phrase often now includes freeze, for good reason.

Freezing is sometimes my go-to as well. In the middle of an earthquake in Rome, Ga., my freshman year of college, I was awakened in the middle of the night to feel my dorm room shaking. I shut my eyes, dismissing the feeling until my roommate asked about it. Eventually we emerged from our dorm room, looked around the hallway to find other girls doing the same and decided everything was OK.

It was easier to face the reality with someone else facing it with me. Otherwise, I might have convinced myself I was crazy and nothing happened. Someone else on the hallway might have convinced herself the rapture had happened, and she’d been left behind. 

That morning, we learned an earthquake had in fact been recorded in Alabama.

Fear can be a powerful motivator, though, supercharging rumors and leading to those fight and flight responses, too. If I could have fled the earthquake, I might have tried.

The role of fear amid this pandemic remains a topic of heated debate. I spent much of the first year of the pandemic scared a family member would get COVID-19. Meanwhile, some refused to change their behaviors as the virus began circulating. Perhaps they are more fearful of their freedoms being limited than of catching the virus, which has a case fatality rate of 1.6%, according to Johns Hopkins. That percentage represents more than 650,000 people who have died of COVID-19 of a total of more than 40 million confirmed cases in the U.S. 

Then there are others who wear a mask while walking down the street by themselves. 

The cure for fear is often gaining some sense of control. That is what the vaccine gave me. 

For those scared of government overreach, taking a vaccine could amount to losing a sense of control. Being mandated to take a vaccine that you believe to be dangerous is a scary proposition.

This battle between science and conspiracy can miss the real crux of the issue. Yes, I believe science is clearly on the side of vaccination and we all should do our part to limit the spread in our community and the burden on our health system. However, I don’t know that judgment against the unvaccinated persuades any minds to be changed. Rational thought can fly out the window when it comes to fear. There are certainly folks willingly ignorant about the virus and the vaccine, but I also believe there are a lot of folks who are just scared and don’t know what to believe.

It’s tricky to find that healthy dose of fear that keeps us from doing stupid things but also allows us to make a move toward doing the right thing.

Perhaps we can focus a little less on shaming, though, and a bit more on understanding we’re all at least a little scared.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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