Resolve to Think Critically about COVID-19

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Resolve to think critically

Have you been trying to think well about how to protect yourself, your workplace, and your community during the pandemic?


COVID-19 is a serious threat. We have learned a lot about it in 2020.  Here are some arguments, derived from critical thinking, that show what we know for certain:

  1. New cases of the virus are increasing, in many communities, and in all of these, the virus is a threat to life and health. Some members of our community need to work in environments that put them at risk for COVID-19, because the work they do either protects the community (first responders, medical care staff and administrators, etc.) or provides the things that the rest of the community needs to survive. Employers who value their employees, and the work that they do, want them to be healthy. Employees should have personal protective equipment to diminish their risk of contracting the virus. If they become sick, they should have health care coverage. Expecting workers to do their jobs, without the appropriate personal protective equipment or assurance of health care coverage, is poor critical thinking.
  2. Our usual management (medication and respiratory support) is not always successful in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. Our usual supportive care services (hospitalization and intensive care) are, currently, in inadequate supply in many areas and are not a guarantee of survival. As a result, preventing new cases of the virus is the obvious goal. We are provided data, daily, documenting the new cases and the new deaths from COVID-19, and these data are being provided to each community, so that they can judge the risk of infection. It is clear, that in places where there are new cases of COVID-19 (some with very high rates of infection), denying the seriousness of COVID-19 or denying the risk of infection is poor critical thinking. If people are failing to follow public health guidelines because they deny the seriousness of COVID-19, they are putting the rest of the community at risk.
  3. People who have developed COVID-19 were breathing air that contained the virus or they were touching their face with hands that were covered with the virus. Wearing a mask and washing hands will decrease the threat of catching the virus. Fortunately, these are behaviors that we can all use for self-protection. Analytical thinkers will realize that young children and some adults (with diminished mental capacity who cannot understand the concepts of disease and infection) will need others to help them be protected from COVID-19. Had we realized this, a bit sooner, there would have been fewer deaths in our senior care facilities. 
  4. Contaminated air is the result of coughs, sneezes or exhaled air from people who have COVID-19 symptoms, or who have COVID-19, but do not know that they are infected. Fortunately, most people understand the basics of infectious disease, although too many people still have the habit of carelessly sneezing into the open air with no thought for the protection of their family or community. So, to limit exposure to COVID-19, we should wear masks and quarantine, as directed by health officials, if we have COVID-19 symptoms or if we have been exposed to COVID-19 on order to protect our families and communities. Wearing masks also protects us from virus spread by others.   This is obvious to a critical thinker. 
  5. The chances of catching the virus is higher in some locations than in others. It is more likely to catch the virus indoors (where the air is recirculated) than it is to catch it outdoors (where the virus is dissipated and degraded in the circulating air). Risky environments include private homes and any type of public building, where people are near others who may not be following COVID-19 guidelines and who may be a source of the virus. It’s reasonable to limit meetings, in indoor locations, with anyone who we know may not be following COVID-19 guidelines.
  6. We have developed a vaccination that will provide increasing immunity. Eventually, the number of new cases will decline to near zero. The spread of the virus will slow and the risk of death will diminish. Vaccination brings an obvious value, allowing us to move more freely in public with less fear of infection.  The timeline for achieving a vaccinated public depends upon the efficiency of distributing the vaccinations and the willingness of the public to be vaccinated. A few people may be allergic to the vaccine, and their vaccination will need to be monitored, or, perhaps, they will be advised not to take the vaccination. For the rest of us, vaccination will make us safer and help control COVID-19 in the community. Just as vaccination has decreased the risk of polio, diphtheria, influenza, tetanus, measles, herpes, and other infections. Public messaging about the development and clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated that health officials respect the population’s freedom to judge the safety of this public health initiative.  Health care officials are trusting that an informed public will decide to trust the vaccine, and that vaccination will make it possible to control spread of the virus.
  7. The phrase “people in our bubble” is short for “people that I am sure are following COVID-19 guidelines and who, I think, do not have the virus.” The comfort that we feel about the people in our bubble is undeniable. Critical thinking demands that this status be continually earned.  
  8. If we gather indoors with other for any purpose, some of the people we meet may not been following COVID-19 guidelines. These gatherings, therefore, bring a risk of infection. It is possible that the reason for the gathering might justify the risk of a serious illness or death, but this decision implies that other ways of achieving the goals of the gathering were reviewed and found to be inadequate. Also, the costs of not having the gathering were so great that they may cause some other severe loss, or risk. This is the logic behind shifting work and education to remote environments.
  9. It is possible to catch the virus outdoors (perhaps in conversation with someone who was infected and not wearing anything to protect others), but not likely. Wearing a mask when near another individual outdoors, essentially, handles all risk of infection.
  10. The ability to think well when numbers are involved helps us to think critically about protecting ourselves from COVID-19. If the exposure to COVID-19 is strong enough (the number of infectious virus particles is high enough) we will become infected. If our immune system does not have adequate numbers of antibodies to destroy the virus (in the case of a new virus, we may have none) we will become ill. Many of us will have very debilitating symptoms. Some of us will die.  How high does the death rate need to be? Does it matter if we know someone who has died? Heuristic thinking, the quick judgments that usually protect us, can be a source of poor judgment if we are basing our behavior on questions like these. It means that we are not thinking well about the geometric risk of COVID-19 within a community. Weaker thinkers, too often, make judgments based upon emotion, anecdotes, and their desires about what they wish were true.   In contrast, stronger thinkers assess risk based on caseload information, knowledge of transmission, and the benefits of protection guidelines.

If you have not be attacking COVID-19 with critical thinking, this would be a good New Year’s resolution.


For more information about the power of critical thinking:

Why Everyone Needs Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking: What it is and Why It Counts
15 Practical examples of Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking Strategies for the COVID-19 Pandemic


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