Moral Disengagement Fuels ‘Pandemic Fatigue’ & How We Can Avoid It


Pandemic Fatigue
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As we reach the seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers are pointing to a new cause in an uptick of cases: pandemic fatigue.

“Pandemic fatigue refers to feeling overwhelmed with still having to maintain a state of constant vigilance, in this case six months after the pandemic started, and a weariness to abide by restrictions,” according to Gavi Vaccine Alliance.

Understandably, people are tired of the daily inconveniences caused by avoiding the COVID-19 virus and want their lives to return to normal. However, if we fall complacent and begin disregarding guidance from public health officials, we take part in moral disengagement and it becomes more difficult for our communities to put an end to COVID-19.

When we disengage morally from safety and virus prevention, those who end up suffering the most are Latinos and other people of color who have been disproportionately targeted by the virus.

It’s vital that we learn about how moral disengagement causes pandemic fatigue, how it harms Latinos, and how we can avoid it.

What is Moral Disengagement?

Moral disengagement is the process by which someone convinces themselves that ethical standards do not apply to them within a particular situation or context, according to social psychologist Albert Bandura.

Moral disengagement can be broken into four categories:

  1. Moral Justification – Reconstructing immoral conduct as serving the greater good
  2. Diffusing Responsibility – Deflecting responsibility by attributing it to authority figures
  3. Minimizing Injurious Consequences – Misrepresenting the outcomes of one’s behavior
  4. Dehumanizing the Victim – Blaming victims by saying they are less than human and don’t deserve equal treatment

Through these four techniques, people use moral disengagement to rationalize their harmful decisions.

“Latinos and other out-groups suffer the consequences of discrimination that result in negative interactions with those acting with moral disengagement at the doctor’s office, with law enforcement officials, during the hiring process, or at the work place,” according to a Salud America! research review.

Now we’re seeing moral disengagement come to light in the disregard of COVID-19 precautions.

Moral Disengagement and Pandemic Fatigue

Despite the growth of COVID-19 in several parts of the country, many Americans are easing up on preventative measures.

“Although face-coverings and physical distancing are still mandatory in public spaces in most countries, there are many reports of people either not wearing masks or wearing them ineffectively. Equally, despite pavements and floors in shops and airports painted to indicate the distance that people should keep apart, often they are not heeded,” according to Gavi Vaccine Alliance.

Pandemic Fatigue

This is in part due to people who are frustrated with the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on their lives.

People pushing back against the pandemic have one mindset, says Mark Harris, county executive for Winnebago County, Wisconsin, according to the New York Times: “This has been inconveniencing me long enough and I’m done changing my behavior.”

This behavior is indicative of moral disengagement, as is many of the other excuses that individuals will use to justify their behavior.

Here are some excuses you might hear people say when trying to justify being complacent with virus precautions:

“It’s actually better if I get the virus because then I’ll be immune.”

This is moral justification. We must do our best to prevent catching the virus because many of the harmful long-term effects of COVID-19 are still being researched. Additionally, it is important to reduce the spread to vulnerable populations.

“I won’t wear a mask because it isn’t mandated in my city.”

This is diffusing responsibility. We must all take personal responsibility for keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe, even if our local guidance doesn’t match the guidance from trusted public health officials.

“It doesn’t matter if I get sick from the virus because I’m young and healthy.”

This is minimizing injurious consequences. We must avoid getting sick even if we are likely to survive the virus because we may unknowingly spread it to people who are at a higher risk.

“It’s not my fault he got the virus. He already has diabetes.”

This is dehumanizing the victim. Nobody deserves to catch a deadly virus. Because some groups, such as Latinos, are more at risk due to pre-existing health conditions and lack of access to health care, we must all play our part in preventing the spread.

People use these excuses for their harmful behavior, particularly when they are not closely connected to someone diagnosed with COVID-19.

“Right now, most people are still removed from the consequences of getting COVID-19,” said psychologist Carisa Parrish, according to John Hopkins Medicine. “The risk might not feel real to them if they don’t know anyone who’s sick with COVID-19.”

Who does Moral Disengagement Harm?

Moral disengagement and pandemic fatigue are destructive. They result in the harm of Latino communities and other communities of color that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Not only are Latinos 3 times as likely as white people to be diagnosed with COVID-19, but they also comprise 43.2% of COVID-19-related deaths among the 0-24 age range, according to data from the CDC.

Latinos also have higher rates of diabetes and cancer compared to the overall U.S. population, meaning that they are likely to have pre-existing conditions that make the impact of COVID-19 much more serious than other groups.

This means that someone’s neglectful behavior could mean life or death for others.

That’s why we must stay vigilant with COVID-19 precautions. We must prevent burning out from pandemic fatigue.

How to Prevent Pandemic Fatigue and Moral Disengagement

Ignoring COVID-19 preventative precautions can have harmful affects on Latinos and other high-risk communities.

Fortunately, there are ways we can stay vigilant to fight pandemic fatigue.

Dr. Parrish of John Hopkins Medicine recommends the following tips:

  1. Make a commitment to washing hands, keeping physical distance, and wearing a mask.
  2. Be flexible as public health recommendations change.
  3. Practice precautions until they’re second nature.
  4. Keep the necessary supplies on hand.
  5. Read a story about someone who has gone through COVID-19 to understand risks and consequences.
  6. Give children a voice in making sure the family maintains safety precautions.

“Accepting this new reality and staying committed to good habits can prevent COVID-19,” Parrish said.

We can also fight pandemic fatigue by maintaining healthy coping mechanisms, such as connecting with loves ones, taking care of our bodies, limiting excessive news intake, and doing activities that lower stress, according to UCLA Health.

To help fight the spread of COVID-19, Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio launched the “Juntos, We Can Stop COVID-19” digital communication campaign to help Latino families and workers take action to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The #JuntosStopCovid campaign features bilingual, culturally relevant fact sheets, infographics, and video role model stories to encourage Latinos to change their public health behaviors.

Share the campaign with your friends, family, and colleagues!


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