One Hidden Reason Many Doctors Say COVID-19 Cases Will Keep Spiking

It's no coincidence that as people take fewer precautions, new coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Over the past few weeks, the country has seen huge spikes in the number of new coronavirus cases in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, Utah, California, and several other states. In fact, many of these states have hit pause on reopening plans, and some have even reinstated previously lifted lockdown orders by closing bars and cutting back on the capacity for indoor dining at restaurants. So what's causing all these new cases that have experts extremely concerned with the current situation in the U.S.? Several factors are at play, but some doctors say that one in particular is having a major impact: caution fatigue.

Jacqueline Gollan, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says caution fatigue is just like any other fatigue. Essentially, you grow tired of all the hand washing, mask-wearing, and social distancing, and start to do them less and less over time.

"Whether it's wearing masks or standing six feet away from people, caution fatigue is low motivation or energy to comply with safety guidelines," she said in an interview with Northwestern University. "You could consider caution fatigue to be similar to a AA battery," she adds. "Initially you may have been energized and positively focused on following pandemic-safety behavior. But as the virus has continued on, you may start to focus on the negative and feel physically or mentally depleted."

four young people sitting outside at an outdoor concert

Caution fatigue typically manifests when you become desensitized to repeated warnings—like the ones all of us have heard or read everyday for the past four months, for example—Gollan told CNN. When this occurs it sparks a battle between the amygdala (the part of your brain that registers fear) and the hippocampus (the part of your brain that determines if the fear or threat is real).

"So the front part of the brain, the thinking part, says, 'Hey, emotions. It's OK. You don't have to do that right now,'" Gollan told CNN. "We use these processes basically to create a sense of control."

Eric Zillmer, PsyD a professor in neuropsychology at Drexel University, says that in addition to becoming desensitized to warnings and the fear that surrounds them, the pandemic is unique in the fact that it can be perceived as "abstract."

"It is an invisible enemy and it targets specific vulnerable populations more than others," Zillmer said in an interview with Medical Xpress. "So some, younger populations for example, may not feel particularly threatened. Wearing masks or the energy it takes to comply with safety guidelines gets old very quickly."

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As record high numbers of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to be reported, it's clear caution fatigue is a factor, as it's causing more and more people to forgo important safety precautions. But how can you avoid it? Gollan recommends exercising, eating well, and setting attainable goals for yourself. She also says changing up the news sources you get your information from can help get you more engaged in what's going on and why doing your part is essential.

"It can help to ask yourself questions when making a decision during this time, like, "Do I care about being a citizen? Do I care about being part of a team? Do I respect other people?'" Gollan told Medical Xpress. "That can help you make a better decision and hold off on the temptations when we want to bend the guidance that we're being given." And for more on how quickly the the virus is spreading, a Top U.S. Official Warns Our "Window Is Closing" to Control Coronavirus.

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