COVID-19 compounds fatigue felt by victims of natural disasters

Pandemic fatigue
Photo via The U.S. Army/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“Caution fatigue” is the newest phrase to enter the American lexicon due to COVID-19.

Caution fatigue, which boils down to being tired of being on alert, is a natural response to prolonged stress. Entering month 9 of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., it’s become a phenomenon that is hitting a particular group slightly harder: the victims of natural disasters.

Researchers who study disaster fatigue, a similar cognitive struggle which presents as emotional exhaustion that can strongly affect decision making, say the COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a year without comparison in their field. The resulting pandemic fatigue could have major implications for emergency planners when it comes to natural disasters.

A survey conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida showed that 75% of 7,000 residents were more likely to shelter in place, rather than shelter somewhere else, during a hurricane this year. Concern over contracting COVID-19 in a shelter was the primary motivator. A second survey showed that 300 of these respondents changed their minds following Hurricane Laura, saying they would never do so again.

Before the hurricane, survey respondents prioritized the national health crisis over seeking shelter somewhere they did not live. That position was reversed for many, who were more concerned for their own safety in a day-to-day sense, after Hurricane Laura. 

The pandemic changed enough of disaster response—including what services and supplies were available, whether storm shelters had been turned into emergency health facilities, and the desire of vulnerable people to remain in their homes—that the CDC and American Red Cross created new disaster preparation guides to address these concerns.

New sections created by the CDC outlined strategies for minimizing the transmission of COVID-19 while sheltering from a natural disaster. For the Red Cross, hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves were of particular concern.

Addressing what people can do to prepare for a natural disaster during a pandemic, the Red Cross suggested creating two emergency kits of supplies and a one-month supply of any necessary medications. The first kit is a two-week “stay at home” kit, which should include everything you might need in your home for two weeks. This includes food and household supplies. The second kit is a smaller, travel-friendly version of the at-home kit, with everything you need for three days, including “food, water, personal hygiene items, and cleaning and disinfectant supplies that you can use on the go.” 

Sources: Science Magazine, CDC, American Red Cross

Continue Learning