Raleigh, N.C. — If you head out, it’s likely you’ll see some people with masks on, some without. Some social distancing, others – not so much. These are the signs of society returning to a sense of normalcy.
“I think every person handles change differently, is able to cope with a pace of change differently,” said Dr. Austin Hall, an associate professor in psychiatry at UNC’s School of Medicine. “That’s why we’re seeing such individualized experiences, as we sort of emerge from this pandemic.”
Hall says, by looking at the state’s current vaccination rate – around 50% of all adults in North Carolina are fully vaccinated – he thinks some people are taking an individualized approach to coping with and living during pandemic.
“Certainly there are many individuals who are engaging in behaviors in the community in a way that might not be safe for them or necessarily safe for the community.”
But Hall doesn’t think people are viewing COVID the same as something like the flu, which we see annually.
The data shows, 15 months in, the rolling average for COVID deaths this week – one of the lowest since the start of the pandemic, is still 4 times more deadly than the flu during its peak week during the 2018-2019 season. We’re looking at that flu season because it was the last full season where people weren’t social distancing or mask wearing.
Even as the number of daily deaths from COVID have dropped, lingering between 10 or 20 a day over the last two weeks, that’s still significantly higher than the flu that season when, during its deadliest week, 32 people died.
Flu season lasts 33 weeks from September to May. In 2018-2019, 203 people died during the last season – an average of 6 a week. We looked at data for the last 33 weeks of COVID which shows nearly 8800 people died during the same length of time — about 267 people a week.
Halls says most people he talks to believe, at some point, we will overcome COVID.
“I think part of America’s identity is the ability for individuals to have their individual freedoms,” said the doctor from UNC. “There’s still many people who don’t fully appreciate the benefit to our whole community and our return to former way of life that will come if we could just get most of the population vaccinated.”
Hall believes incentivizing people, which Governor Cooper announced plans for on Thursday, is a good way to encourage some people who might be uncertain about getting the vaccine right now.
“I really think that most of us have that ability to be our best in us,” Hall told WRAL. “We need our policymakers, politicians, public health officials to be continuing to think creatively about ways we can incentivize people to be their best.”