People becoming desensitised to Covid illnesses, death: Study

New York: While in early 2020 people incessantly washed their hands and wouldn’t leave home for fear of the novel coronavirus disease, 11 months later the public has pushed the envelope on Covid-19 safety precautions and ignored warnings, suggested a new study based on news articles on Twitter.

Researchers at University of California-Davis examined how Covid-19 news articles shared to Twitter were first met with anxiety-ridden tweets early in the pandemic, during a coinciding spike in instances of panic-buying, extreme social distancing and quarantine measures.

Despite the increased death toll, those behaviours then gave way over time to less concerned responses to Covid-19 news, along with increases in societal risk-taking during that time period. The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Infodemiology.

During a period of 11 months, the team used a computerised methodology to analyse linguistic anxiety levels in hundreds of Covid-19 news articles on Twitter, along with the anxiety levels in corresponding user tweets. They then correlated the findings with the Covid-19 death toll in the United States.

“Our study shows a need to delve deeper into how to re-sensitise the public and motivate them to take action in the face of an ongoing emergency. Testing the effectiveness of various health-risk communication strategies could quite possibly mean the difference between life and death in the future,” said lead author Hannah Stevens, a doctoral student from the varsity’s Department of Communication.

“If another health crisis occurred today, or Covid-19 takes another turn for the worse, it is essential for public health officials to consider that they are communicating to a desensitised public. I hope that this paper can be an impetus to get that discussion started,” she added.


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