It's impossible to quantify your personal COVID-19 risks and try to get discouraged, but you can still take action

It’s impossible to quantify your personal COVID-19 risks and try to get discouraged, but you can still take action

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“How dangerous is being at home with our 10-year-old granddaughter without masks? We have plans for Christmas tea together. Are we safe?”

This question, from a woman named Debbie in California, is just one of hundreds of questions I’ve received from people worried about COVID-19. I’m an epidemiologist and one of the women behind Dear Pandemic, a science communication project that has provided practical advice about the pandemic on social media since the start of the pandemic.

How dangerous is a swim team? How dangerous is going to my appointment with an orthodontist? How dangerous is going to the grocery store with a mask on if no one else is wearing it and my dad is a transplant recipient? How dangerous is it to hold a wedding indoors with 200 people, and the reception hall with a vaulted ceiling? And on and on.

These questions are difficult to answer, and even when we try, the answers are unsatisfactory.

So in early April 2022, when Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical advisor, told Americans that from now on, each of us would have to do a personal risk assessment, I lay my head on my desk.

An individual risk assessment is not a reasonable request, even for someone who does risk assessments for a living, let alone the rest of us. It is impossible to assess our risk in any given situation, and the impossibility of the task can make us feel like giving up completely. So instead of doing that, I’d suggest focusing on risk reduction. Reframing in this way brings us back to a world of what we can control and to the tried-and-true evidence-based strategies: wear masks, vaccinate, reinforce, avoid indoor crowds, and improve ventilation.

A series of unknown variables

In my experience, non-scientists and epidemiologists use the word “risk” to mean different things. For most people, risk means an adjective – something like danger or vulnerability.

When epidemiologists and other scientists use the word risk, we are talking about a computational problem. Risk is the probability of a particular outcome, in a given population at a particular time. To give a simple example, the chances of a coin flip are 1 in 2.

As public health researchers, we often present information about risks like this: the chance that an unvaccinated person will die of COVID-19 if they contract it is about 1 in 200. Up to 1 in 8 people with COVID-19 will They develop symptoms that persist for weeks or months after recovery.

To proceed to your own personal risk assessment, as Fauci casually suggested, you must first identify the outcome you are talking about. People are often not very specific when they look at risk from a qualitative perspective; They tend to group a lot of different risks together. But risk is not a general concept. It is always the risk of a certain outcome.

Let’s think of Debbie. First, there is the risk of her contracting COVID-19 while drinking tea. It depends on her granddaughter. Where do you live? How many children at her school have contracted COVID-19 this week? Will she have a quick test before she comes? All of these factors influence the granddaughter’s risk of COVID-19, but I don’t know any of them and Debbie probably doesn’t either. Since there is no systematic testing, I have no idea how many people in my community have COVID-19 at the moment. At this point, our best guess about community pricing is literally down the toilet – monitoring sewage for coronavirus.

If I assume Debbie’s granddaughter has COVID-19 on the appointed day, I can start thinking about Debbie’s ultimate risk: whether she will get COVID-19 from her granddaughter; Chances are she will be hospitalized and die; And the possibility of her being infected with the Corona virus for a long time. I can also think about the risk of Debbie contracting COVID-19 and then giving it to others, which would keep the outbreak going. If she gets sick, the entire hierarchy of risk plays a role for everyone Debbie sees after her injury.

Finally, there are competing risks. If Debbie decides to skip the party, there could be risks to her mental health, the health of her granddaughter, or their relationship. Skipping several celebrations in many families can negatively affect the economy. People can lose business; They could lose their jobs.

Each of these possibilities is influenced by a series of fluctuating circumstances. Some of the risk factors are under your control. For example, I decided to receive a vaccination and a booster. Therefore, it is very unlikely that I would end up in the hospital and die if I contracted COVID-19. But some of the risks are not under your control — age, other health conditions, gender, race, and the behavior of the people around you. Many, many risk factors are simply unknown. We will never be able to accurately assess the entire volatile nature of risk in a given situation and come up with a number.

Take charge of what you can

There wouldn’t be a situation where I could say to Debbie: The risk is 1 in 20. And even if I could, I’m not sure it would be any good. Most people find it very difficult to understand the possibilities they face every day, such as the chance of rain.

The statistical risk of a particular outcome does not address Debbie’s fundamental question: Are we safe?

Nothing is completely safe. If you want my professional opinion on whether it is safe to walk on the sidewalk, I would have to say no. Bad things happen. I know someone who tore a tendon in his hand while laying a sheet on the bed last week.

It is practical to ask: What can I do to reduce the risk?

Focusing on actions that reduce risk frees us from obsessing over unanswerable questions with useless answers so that we can focus on what is within our control. I won’t know for sure how dangerous Dippy tea is, but I do know how to make the risk lower.

I guess the question people really ask is: How do I manage risk? I like this question better because it has an answer: you should do what you can. If it is reasonable to wear a mask, wear a mask. Yes, even if it is not required. If it makes sense to have an at-home antigen test before you see your at-risk grandparents, do so. Get vaccinated and boosted. Tell your friends and family that you did it and why. Choose outdoor gatherings. Open a window.

Constantly assessing and reassessing risks has left many people overwhelmed with decision making. I feel that too. But you don’t need to recalibrate the risks of everything, every day, for each variable, because the risk reduction strategies remain the same. Minimizing the risks – even if just a little – is better than doing nothing.

Increased risk of blood clots due to Covid-19 virus

Introduction of the conversation

This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.Conversation

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2022-05-17 13:23:03

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