Coronavirus and Its Effect on American Society: A Student's Perspective
By Antoinette R. Mason, BSW Student
The novel coronavirus of 2019, more commonly referred to as COVID-19, is an infectious disease that has been recently discovered. Prior to an outbreak in Wuhan, China that occurred in December 2019, this particular disease was not known to healthcare professionals, scientists, or the general public. However, it falls under the umbrella of coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) (World Health Organization, 2020). Since the outbreak of the virus in China, it has infected residents in virtually every country throughout the world including the United States of America (US). The US has currently confirmed over 122,000 cases of COVID-19 in all 50 states and every US territory. There have also been over 2,000 deaths caused by the disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). The virus has now officially reached pandemic status. This level of health emergency in our country is something that most, if not all, of us have never experienced in our lifetimes. Therefore, our country is dealing with this in so many different types of ways. It has truly changed all of us in a very short period of time.
The United States arguably had a late response in taking precautionary measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. As a result, we have become the number one country for new COVID-19 infections per day (Jin, 2020). Many states have recently put plans into place in order to be able to withstand continued spread of the virus and limit adverse outcomes for its most vulnerable populations. Some governors and mayors across the country have signed orders to close non-life sustaining businesses such as bars, restaurants, gyms, and other retail stores. Schools and churches have also been ordered to close their doors for an indefinite period of time. Other cities have implemented shelter-in-place orders that forbid its residents from leaving their home for anything other than employment or limited grocery store visits. The very structure of our society is crumbling beneath us and I feel that the psyche of Americans is experiencing the same thing. I believe the loss of the privileges we have become accustomed to is akin to enduring the five stages of grief. Since my career path will be working with patients in the psychosocial oncology field, this paper will discuss how these stages can be parallel to what our society is going through in dealing with the changes that come with this pandemic.
The Kubler-Ross model, more commonly referred to as the five stages of grief, was a theory developed by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross as a way to explain the various stages terminally ill patients go through prior to their deaths. These stages were later found to be experienced in a similar fashion by the person’s close relatives and friends (Axelrod, 2019). The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages do not have to be in any particular order in the grief process. However, in this paper, I will outline them consecutively in the way I believe they have affected the US in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Denial is the first stage of grief. It is interesting to me that this was the early response from many Americans. After all, our society loves fantasy and conspiracy theories. There are books, movies, and television shows that celebrate vampires, werewolves, witches, unicorns, mermaids, centaurs, ghosts, and just about every supernatural person, place, or thing you can imagine or dream. We also enjoy a good apocalyptic story. You don’t need to look any further than popular television shows The Walking Dead, Into the Badlands, and The 100 to see that. So, when a viral pandemic actually occurs in our nation, one would think that Americans would see it as the inevitable unfolding of what we have already expected. However, we took the opposite road. Many denied that COVID-19 was a big deal with an abundance of individuals, including our President, touting that it was no worse than the flu despite the fact that it has a higher mortality rate and no vaccine or cure. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID), COVID-19 has a death rate ten times that of influenza (Fauci, 2020). I believe our nation is in denial because we have been conditioned to believe that, collectively, we can’t be touched by the horrors of the rest of the world. We have been conditioned to believe that the absence of the privileges we have, because they are our constitutional right, are never in danger of being lost to us. Due to the sheer fact that we were born in the United States, we don’t have to ever worry about our internet going dark, being murdered for reporting the news, being told that our women can’t dress or behave a certain way. When you think of it this way, the denial becomes a natural thought process.
The next stage of grief is anger. We have seen anger take many forms during this pandemic. There are those who are angry at the government for downplaying the virus and not taking action sooner. There is anger towards the individuals who went into massive hysteria and began stockpiling goods such as toilet tissue, meat, and milk which resulted in there not being enough for those who desperately needed it. I remember going to Sam’s Club to try to salvage a few food items that remained. A young lady was crying in the store while her mother tried desperately to console her. Based on overhearing their conversation, she was upset because she had been all over the city and could not find any whole milk for her growing toddler. There is also anger at those who still don’t seem to be taking this as seriously as it is. Most saw the news stories of spring breakers who crowded the beaches of South Beach Miami after all of the area restaurants and bars were closed. People are throwing “coronavirus parties”, hosting family gatherings, and playing basketball at parks. All of these things do nothing but continue the spread of the disease and prolong the period of time we will have to practice social distancing and quarantining.
Thirdly, we have the bargaining stage. Americans begin to feel that if they do everything that has been suggested to them, they will be allowed to get back the small freedoms and advantages that are customary in our society. We see the stores that have remained open cautioning against standing too close to each other in the grocery store line. Parents are starting to cancel the playdates and sleepovers. Subconsciously, this is because they believe that all they need to do at this point is follow the rules and everything will go back to normal. We know so little about COVID-19 at this point that one can only hope that this is the case.
Next, comes the feelings of depression. I think many may be dealing with this stage right now. According to a study the World Health Organization conducted in 2016, the US is already the third most depressed country in the world (McPhillips, 2016). If you add to those who are already depressed by taking away social interaction as ability to visit therapists and psychiatrists in person, this is a recipe for disaster. Furthermore, the US economy has been on a steady downturn since the pandemic took over our daily lives. During the Great Depression, our country saw a rise in the number of suicides due to financial instability. This situation has the potential to get as dire as it was then. Anxiety about what is to come is also prevalent even in my own personal life. Even if we or our loved ones are unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with the virus, we can’t interact with them. There are stories all over the media of patients dying alone only seeing their family and friends via FaceTime. Individuals in nursing homes are also not to see their spouses, children, or siblings. These feelings of isolation contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression.
The final stage is acceptance. This stage centers around the acceptance of your own mortality and what that entails. You realize that although you may have felt invincible, you really are just a small blip in what happens in this world. It doesn’t mean that a person is happy with the way things are turning out. It just means that they have recognized that there is nothing they can do about the happenings that surround them and that no amount of denial, anger, bargaining, or depressive behavior will stop it. I’m sure some Americans have reached that stage. However, based on observations, I’m not sure there are many. COVID-19 has literally rocked our world at its core. This is just the beginning and according to projections, the worst is yet to come. All of these stages represent what any one of you could be enduring at any given time. We are in a time of grief and loss. We are mourning the world as we once knew it. I doubt we will be the same after this and I’m not sure if that’s a positive or a negative thing. However, what I know is the more quickly we come to accept our new normal, the easier it will be to come together and combat this virus.
Axelrod, J. (2019, November 20). The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss. Retrieved from PsychCentral:
https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, March 29). Cases in U.S. Retrieved from
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html
Fauci, A. (2020). House Oversight and Reform Committee Hearing on Coronavirus Response,Day 1. Washington, D.C.
Jin, B. (2020, March 27). Two better ways to chart the spread of coronavirus. Retrieved fromPolitico: https://www.politico.com/interactives/2020/number-of-coronavirus-cases-bycountry/
McPhillips, D. (2016, September 14). U.S. Among Most Depressed Countries in the World.Retrieved from U.S. News & World Report: https://www.usnews.com/news/bestcountries/articles/2016-09-14/the-10-most-depressed-countries
World Health Organization. (2020, March 9). Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). Retrievedfrom World Health Organization Web site: https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/qa-coronaviruses