For all of our strengths, humans are notoriously bad at accurately assessing risk. Even before the pandemic, there were articles talking about this curiosity of human nature. In a 2007 article, writer Bruce Schneier explains that “So here’s the first fundamental problem: We have two systems for reacting to risk — a primitive intuitive system and a more advanced analytic system — and they’re operating in parallel. It’s hard for the neocortex to contradict the amygdala.”
So, if we were already bad at risk-assessment, how do we make any decisions now about covid-19?
We’ve been struggling with this in our household. On one hand, we know that we do things all the time that don’t have zero risk — driving a car, eating fruit and vegetables from the grocery store, getting take-out. And we can read the statistics on covid and know that we lower our risk by vaccinations, masking, and social distancing, and that certain populations are less likely to have a serious reaction to covid. But where is the line that defines “acceptable risk”?
I’m having a hard enough time deciding on that for my family, so don’t expect any advice from this quarter. But here are the things we can look at to help us figure out the comfortable and responsible answer for each of us:
First, here’s a calculator to help. You put in some specifics about you and your situation, and it tells you your risk, plus compares it to other common risks. Example:
Among people in your county who have behaviors and levels of interaction with others that are similar to yours, the estimated probability of catching COVID-19 through community transmission in a week is 0.0039% . For comparison, 0.41% of Americans catch the flu every week during flu season...Among people who are the same age, sex, and health status as you and get sick from COVID-19, the risk of hospitalization is 0.77% , the risk of requiring an ICU is 0.52% , and the risk of not surviving is 0.1%
Other articles and websites you may find helpful: