Be Careful . . .
/ Author: Carla Brink
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Be Careful . . .

Worry and risk assessment at a time of COVID-19 and vaccines

By Carla Brink, Representative

I have been told by my husband that I say “be careful” too much, but I still feel compelled to say it. An extra dose of caution never hurt anyone right?

For a while he called me Aunt Jo, a character from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Aunt Jo is fearful of everything. Her fear began after losing her husband in a water incident due to not waiting a full hour after eating to go for a swim. Since that tragedy her motto is: “there are many things to be afraid of in this world—the safest strategy is to be afraid of them all.” Her fear becomes paralyzing and irrational; the orphan children in the story who come to stay with her are warned to stay away from the refrigerator since it might fall, not to answer the phone due to risk of electrocution, and to not use the stove since it may burst into flames.

Clearly, she is not someone I really want to emulate, but wanting to mitigate risk is natural. When I say “be careful” I feel less anxious.

Obviously, we can’t avoid risk entirely, but mitigating risk is something we all do every day. We follow health and safety rules at work and have the right to refuse unsafe work—but we can’t refuse all work that has some risk. At a jobsite, you wear a hardhat to reduce the chance of injury. You can’t take it off just because the risk of an item falling on your head is very low, nor can you refuse to work because there is a minuscule chance of something encountering your head.

Even just getting to work is risky. We all must drive, bike, walk, or take the bus. But we mitigate the risk by following the traffic laws and by wearing a helmet on the bike and a mask on the bus. Nothing in life is 100 percent risk free.  

It becomes more difficult to balance risk when the risks involve real choices that we have, especially when there are unknowns. This has been the case throughout this past year with COVID-19 and more recently with the vaccines.

Every week there is some emerging evidence of something new, and that is hard when our minds crave concrete information.

Many of us feel like we have become both data analysts and risk analysts. We look at the daily case numbers, read the articles about the studies that have been done, and try to make reasonable judgements and decisions. Recently with additional vaccines becoming available to new age groups, some of us are faced with even more opportunities for risk analysis. What is the risk of blood clots? What is the risk of contracting COVID? If you do contract COVID, what is the risk of a blood clot and/or a severe case? How long will it take for an alternate vaccine to be available? Should one wait and allow others with more risk factors to have a chance first? How do we compute those risks based on the information we have?

I’m not claiming that I have the answers, but hopefully acknowledging that fear is real and worry about these choices is common can help lead to a rational decision.   

Incidentally, all the things Aunt Jo warned about came to pass, so to me, it justified her fears and warnings. However, my husband reminded me that all her worrying did not change things. I suppose there is a lesson in that for me.

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