Why pandemic fatigue and burnout from COVID-19 took over in 2022


In the third year of the coronavirus pandemic, the focus shifted from public health to individual health

2022 was the year when many people decided that the coronavirus pandemic was over.

President Joe Biden announced this in interview 60 Minutes in September. “The pandemic is over,” he said as he strolled through a Detroit auto show. “We still have a problem with COVID. We are still working on it a lot. But the pandemic is over.”

His evidence? “No one wears masks. Everyone seems to be in pretty good shape.”

But in the week that Biden’s words were spoken, about 360 people were still dying of COVID-19 in the United States every day. Worldwide, about 10,000 deaths were reported every week. That’s “10,000 too many, even though most of these deaths could have been prevented,” World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing at the time. In addition, there are millions of people who are still dealing with delayed symptoms long after infection.

These staggering numbers have ceased to alarm people, perhaps because these statistics appeared after two years of heartbreaking number of deaths. Indifference to the rising death toll may reflect pandemic fatigue that has sunk deep into the public psyche, causing many to feel overpowered and end safety measures.

“We didn’t warn people about fatigue,” says Theresa Chapple-McGruder, an epidemiologist in Chicago. “We didn’t warn people that the pandemic could last a long time and that we still need people to be prepared to take care of themselves, their neighbors, their community.”

Health agencies around the world, including in Singapore and the UK, have endorsed the idea that we can “get back to normal” by learning to “live with COVID”. Recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the threshold for the number of cases , which would trigger masking. The agency also cut back the recommended isolation time for infected people is up to five days although most people still test positive for the virus and are potentially contagious to others for several days longer.

The changing rules have created confusion and put the onus on individuals to make decisions about when to mask, test and stay home. In essence, the strategy has shifted from public health—protecting your community—to individual health—protecting yourself.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the New York City Transportation Authority posted signs asking people to wear masks on the subway. MTA
The yellow MTA sign says, “Masks are encouraged but not required.  Let's respect each other's choices.  Four figures appear with different placement of masks with the words
In early September, the MTA changed its policy to focus on individual choice rather than protecting each other.MTA

Doing your part can be exhausting, says Eric Kennedy, a sociologist specializing in disaster management at York University in Toronto. “Public health says, ‘Hey, you have to make the right choices every moment of your life.’ Of course, people will get tired of it.”

Doing the right thing—from vaccinations to wearing masks indoors—didn’t always seem to pay off on a personal level. Although vaccines do not prevent people from becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19, they are not as effective at protecting against infection. This year, many people who tried to make a safe choice and avoided COVID-19, got infected with cunning variants of omicron. Sometimes people got infected repeatedly — some more than once.

These infections may have contributed to feelings of worthlessness. “I kind of did my best. And even with all that work, I still got it. So why should I try?” “, says Kennedy, head of the Canadian project to monitor the sociological consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccination, masking, and medication or antibody treatment can reduce the severity of infection and the likelihood of infecting others. “We had to talk about this as a community health issue, not an individual health issue,” says Chapple-McGruder. “We also don’t talk about what our use is [цих інструментів] far from what we need” to avoid hundreds of daily deaths.

The lack of data on how widely the coronavirus is still circulating makes it difficult to determine whether the pandemic is over. In the United States, the influx of home tests has been a “blessing and a curse,” says Beth Blauer, chief data officer at the Resource Center on the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus. The tests gave an instant readout that told people whether they were infected and whether they should be isolated. But because these results were rarely reported to health officials, the true number of cases became difficult to estimate. creating a large data gap.

Backlog with vaccines

About 80 percent of the US population has received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and about 70 percent have completed the primary series. The updated booster, which was available in September, was received by only 12 percent of people age 5 and older as of Nov. 24.

Vaccines against COVID-19 have been introduced in the US
bar graph showing the percentage of the US population that received at least one dose, a complete primary series, and a bivalent booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccines


The flow of COVID-19 data from many state and local agencies has also slowed to a trickle. In October, even the CDC began reporting cases and deaths weekly instead of daily . Overall, the underestimation of coronavirus coverage is worse than ever.

“We’re told, ‘Now you decide what to do,'” says Blauer, “but the data isn’t there to be able to make real-time decisions.”

Because COVID-19 fatigue is so widespread, companies, governments and other institutions must find ways to step up and do their part, Kennedy says. For example, improving ventilation and filtration in public buildings can clean indoor air and reduce the likelihood of the spread of many respiratory infections, including COVID-19. According to him, it’s a behind-the-scenes intervention that people don’t need to spend mental energy thinking about.

Bottom line: People may have stopped worrying about COVID-19, but the virus isn’t done with us yet. “We’ve spent two and a half years in a long dark tunnel and we’re just starting to see the light at the end of that tunnel. But there is still a long way to go,” said Tedros from the WHO. “In the tunnel still dark, with many obstacles , which can trip us up if we don’t take care of it.” If the virus is reborn, will we see it appear and have the strength to fight it again?

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