How Should We Assess The Risk Of COVID-19 In Our Daily Lives?

26August 2021

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Should I eat inside at a restaurant? Should my kids wear a mask? Should I go to the State Fair? Every day, we’re making decisions with COVID on the mind.

So, how should we think about making these choices?

“Often people have a difficult time assessing their own risk,” says Dr. Tara Kirk Sell, a risk communications expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “There are all these different social, emotional factors that go into assessing risk, so it’s not just a numerical risk level.

Sell points to the massive amount of information available to people now as well as the politicization of the pandemic. It all makes the decision-making process harder.

She points to several questions people can ask themselves before making a decision around COVID:

  • What is your vaccination status?
  • What are your risk factors?
  • What is the vaccination status of the people around you?
  • What is the local case rate in your area?

“And then you say: Is that risk really worth the benefit?” she says.

Sell says people can also frame the question around goals.

  • Is your goal to never get COVID?
  • Is your goal to protect the vulnerable people around you?

“You can think about what your goals are, what you actually want to achieve, you know, out of our protective activities,” she said. “I think that it comes really down to that, and that can be hard for people.”

As for ever-evolving data and guidance, Sell says people need to work with the data we have. And one thing that most infectious disease experts agree on is that the COVID vaccine works to fight this pandemic.


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