I don’t know how afraid you are, or if you’re well-stocked on toilet paper, but it’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly altered the atmosphere of the world at large in a short timespan.
The United States specifically harbors a penchant for paranoia that has had a wildfire affect in the past few weeks alone. When the largest Ebola outbreak occurred in West Africa in 2014, the U.S. was practically nonresponsive, and no one freaked out the way coronavirus is causing people to go into doomsday mode. The prevailing distinction here lies in its scale, though: Ebola being an endemic, COVID-19 a pandemic.
The paranoia of the United States might be closely monitored to mass hysteria, where thousands of people are exaggerating their fears and leeching them onto others. Social media, of course, only stimulates this further. With the isolation brought from social distancing and quarantine, the term “loneliness” becomes somewhat distant and forgotten. Since the recent build-up of outbreaks across the globe, paranoia, fear, and isolation have taken on new definitions, acquiring new meanings behind the walls of quarantine.
There’s irony in how isolation has affected us—we don’t have a problem removing ourselves from society by playing video games or binging Netflix. But when we’re told by a higher authority to remain indoors doing these things for a long period of time, then we get annoyed. Perhaps this is an innately American characteristic, to rebel against anybody telling us what to do, even if it’s something we’re already doing. And we do them so well, too.
Likewise, fear makes people act in ways they normally wouldn’t. Recently, I had a tiny cough and a tickle in my throat (most likely due to how dry my apartment gets), so I took a twenty minute shower. Two minutes in my cough went away. This kind of paranoia is uncharacteristic of me, and my partner, a seasoned germaphobe, just laughed at me. I don’t have coronavirus. I’m not paranoid. I’m not.
With our radically changing world, we need to be accustomed to constant and difficult developments. The coronavirus perpetuates American paranoia because it divides us down the middle, into factions. Obviously, there are the confirmed cases of COVID-19. There are those who believe they could be carriers of the disease, but don’t have symptoms yet. And there are those who don’t care at all about the spread of the disease. Facebook comment threads on coronavirus related articles or posts are a tumultuous place to wander around right now.
Paranoia suggests that we are losing grasp of ourselves and our trust of reality. We might be isolated from one another, but this doesn’t mean we have to allow fear and paranoia to persist. By creating divisions, it leaves the state of the country wondering if we’re all on the same page. We have every right to be afraid. We’re not entirely in the dark, but it’s fair to say that the encroaching unknown isn’t helping anyone’s paranoia or resilience.
Five years ago, we might have approached the pandemic differently; we would have been under a different presidential administration, for one. Coupled with the coming election this year, it’s of merit to posit that the political polarization of the United States is a contributing factor to its mass paranoia. Or even its mass ignorance. Sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.