Things Meteorologists Know About Storm Warnings That May Be Applicable to Coronavirus Warnings

Weather science has learned a great deal from social science pertaining to how people react in pressure storm warning situations. I'm listing the lessons meteorologists have learned, in no particular order, in case they are helpful in the cornonavirus (CV) situation. 
  1. Stop telling people, "don't panic." It is both patronizing and unhelpful. Social scientists know genuine panic is rare. When does it occur? Two situations: a) When people's lives are threatened and they don't know how to save them; and b) When something prevents people from taking the measures they know are needed to save their lives or things dear to them. Want to prevent panic? Then, tell people what they need to do and enable them to do it. 
  2. There seems to be a developing gap between what we are being told about CV and the actual situation. Last week, we were being told CV is 6-9 times more contagious than regular flu and 10 to 25 times more lethal. Various publications stated this would be the week where hospitals would be starring to overflow with cases. As far as I can see, outside of the Seattle area, this is not the case. It is too early in the week?
  3. In order for people to conduct themselves in a manner they do not prefer (e.g., crawl into a bathtub for a tornado warning and stay there for 20 minutes) to save their lives, the people advising them to do so must have credibility and that credibility can be easily lost. That is why officials need to be addressing #2. Are the forecasts off? Fine! Is the strategy to "flatten the curve" working? Even better! But, #2 needs to be explained. For all of our sakes, public health officials must keep their credibility high. 
  4. Finally, people will not take precautions without "confirmation." In tornado warnings, this means that once the meteorologist announces "tornado warning," people will look out the window, call a relative, or will switch to another television station. Until the "confirmation" requirement is met, they will not take shelter. Right now, we are putting businesses, especially small businesses, in mortal danger. Asking a small business to shut down for CV is like asking a person to crawl into the bathtub. The level of skepticism about the seriousness of the CV threat, as reflected on my Twitter feed today, has never been higher. A couple of tweeters, people I really respect, are claiming this is massively overblown. I don't think it is. But, our officials desperately need to show the overflowing hospital ER's or explain why they are not [yet].
Daily Mail
We are in completely uncharted waters and I do not envy President Trump, the governors and others who are making these decisions. But, if they want people to cooperate, for everyone's sakes, they need to immediately begin considering factors #1 to #4 and perhaps even contact some of the social scientists with whom meteorologists have been working to improve storm warnings.

                    (c) 2020, Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC


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