Covıd-19, Coronavirus, Restrictions, Norms

Covıd-19, Coronavirus

Commentary: Common sense lacking in a world of COVID-19

Commentary: Common sense lacking in a world of COVID-19

9/8/2020 1:34:00 AM

Commentary: Common sense lacking in a world of COVID-19

Rigid rules can be imposed but ultimately, living in a world of COVID-19 for the next few years will require social norms evolve to ensure our ...

BRING BACK SOCIAL NORMSSocial norms are often more effective than government mandates, because they allow a degree of flexibility that statutes cannot provide.In Ithaca, for example, there is a bridge on Forest Home Drive that has featured in studies of games and social norms, including in William Ferguson’s book Collective Action and Exchange. The bridge is so narrow that cars can pass only in one direction.

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Regulating the traffic flow by law might entail making it a one-way bridge, or requiring cars to travel from left to right in the morning and right to left in the evening. Or the law might require drivers to alternate, with one crossing from left to right and the next in the opposite direction, resulting in wasted space behind each car.

People line up at a food bank following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, Jul 30, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)What happens in the absence of legal regulation is far better. There is a norm whereby three or four cars cross in one direction, and then the drivers behind them stop, allowing three or four cars to come from the other side.

Because the norm, unlike a law, is flexible, you might, if you are in a hurry, decide to cross the bridge as the fifth or sixth car, delaying those waiting on the other side by a few seconds.ARTICULATE THE RATIONALEAs we understand more about COVID-19 and how the virus spreads, we can decide when we should socially distance ourselves, and by how much. The six-foot (1.8m) rule may need to be interpreted flexibly.

For example, if you are talking to a much taller person, or someone who holds their chin very high, you may need to move back an extra foot in order to allow any infected aerosol to complete its arcing journey from face to floor.What we need are guidelines with an articulated rationale, so that people can adjust their behaviour to the context.

READ: Commentary: Battling with the mynas who come into my home and won't leaveIn a widely cited recent paper, for example, the University of California, San Francisco’s Monica Gandhi and her co-authors show that face masks not only protect others from your COVID-19 germs, should you be carrying them, but also protect you from other people who may be infected.

There is thus both a social and a selfish reason for you to wear a mask.MAKING BETTER RULESAs we learn more about COVID-19, we will develop better rules for ourselves. But two caveats are in order.First, many epidemiological studies warn that, for certain findings, causality has not yet been established. In fact, we can never establish causality definitively. We must regard all such claims with a dose of skepticism and the awareness that we may revise them later.

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This is another reason to prefer the greater flexibility of social norms to the heavy hand of the law. For example, we now know that up to 40 per cent of people infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic.In societies where only some people wear masks, the share of asymptomatic carriers could be as high as 90 per cent, as happened during one outbreak in Oregon. If they are not wearing a mask, their lack of symptoms puts us off guard, implying that wearing a mask may indirectly cause COVID-19 to spread more.

Read more: CNA »

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