Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
With the state reporting an increased number of COVID-19 cases every day, and with much talk about flattening the curve, we’ve put together this chart of the spread of the outbreak. The data visualization below was created by Capital-Star Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison.
As Hardison notes, and we pass on, there’s an important caveat here: The state has increased its testing capacity, and it has started receiving test results from commercial labs since the first cases were reported on March 6. The reported cases only reflect positive test results reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
The map below, again created and maintained by Hardison, charts the spread of the disease across the state. As the reporting to date has indicated, the virus is mainly concentrated in eastern Pennsylvania — the most densely populated part of the state, but its footprint is slowly expanding.
As of Monday afternoon, there were 76 reported cases in Pennsylvania, many of them clustered in the Philadelphia metropolitan area in the southeastern corner of the state, Hardison reported.
And if it seems like you wake up every morning, accustomed to the new normal, only to find out that the new normal has shifted since the night before, you’re not alone. If we know one thing, it’s that Life in the Time of Coronavirus is ever-shifting and unpredictable.
And that can be unsettling, to say the least. And at most, it can cause extreme concern and even some fear. To that end, we’re turning it over to University of Michigan psychiatry professor Jacek Debiec, who offers some tips to deal with the stress at this very stressful time.
He wrote the piece below for The Conversation, where it first appeared.
As cases of COVID-19 proliferate, there’s a pandemic of fear unfolding alongside the pandemic of the coronavirus.
Media announce mass cancellations of public events “over coronavirus fears.” TV stations show images of “coronavirus panic shopping.” Magazines discuss attacks against Asians sparked by “racist coronavirus fears.”
Due to the global reach and instantaneous nature of modern media, fear contagion spreads faster than the dangerous yet invisible virus. Watching or hearing someone else who’s scared causes you to be frightened, too, without necessarily even knowing what caused the other person’s fear.
As a psychiatrist and researcher studying the brain mechanisms of social regulation of emotions, I frequently see in clinical and experimental settings how powerful fear contagion can be.
Responding with fear in face of danger
Fear contagion is an evolutionarily old phenomenon that researchers observe in many animal species. It can serve a valuable survival function.
Imagine a herd of antelopes pasturing in the sunny African savanna. Suddenly, one senses a stalking lion. The antelope momentarily freezes. Then it quickly sets off an alarm call and runs away from the predator. In the blink of an eye, other antelopes follow.
Brains are hardwired to respond to threats in the environment. Sight, smell or sound cues that signal the presence of the predator automatically triggered the first antelope’s survival responses: first immobility, then escape.
The amygdala, a structure buried deep within the side of the head in the brain’s temporal lobe, is key for responding to threats. It receives sensory information and quickly detects stimuli associated with danger.
Then the amygdala forwards the signal to other brain areas, including the hypothalamus and brain stem areas, to further coordinate specific defense responses.
These outcomes are commonly known as fright, freeze, flight or fight. We human beings share these automatic, unconscious behaviors with other animal species.
Responding with fear, one step removed
That explains the direct fear the antelope felt when sniffing or spotting a lion nearby. But fear contagion goes one step further.
The antelopes’ run for their lives that followed one frightened group member was also automatic. Their escape, however, was not directly initiated by the lion’s attack but by the behavior of their terrified group member: momentarily freezing, sounding the alarm and running away. The group as a whole picked up on the terror of the individual and acted accordingly.
Like other animals, people are also sensitive to panic or fear expressed by our kin. Human beings are exquisitely tuned to detect other people’s survival reactions.
Experimental studies have identified a brain structure called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) as vital for this ability. It surrounds the bundle of fibers that connect the left and right hemisphere of the brain. When you watch another person express fear, your ACC lights up. Studies in animals confirmed that the message about another’s fear travels from the ACC to the amygdala, where the defense responses are set off.
It makes sense why an automatic, unconscious fear contagion would have evolved in social animals. It can help prevent the demise of an entire group bound by kinship, protecting all their shared genes so they can be passed on to future generations.
Indeed, studies show that social transmission of fear is more robust between animals, including humans, that are related or belong to the same group as compared to between strangers.
Nevertheless, fear contagion is an effective way of transmitting defense responses not only between members of the same group or species but also across species. Many animals, through evolution, acquired an ability to recognize alarm calls of other species. For example, bird squawks are known to trigger defense responses in many mammals.
Transmitting fear in 2020
Fear contagion happens automatically and unconsciously, making it hard to really control.
This phenomenon explains mass panic attacks that can occur during music concerts, sports events or other public gatherings. Once fear is triggered in the crowd – maybe someone thought they heard a gunshot – there is no time or opportunity to verify the sources of terror. People must rely on each other, just like antelopes do. The fear travels from one to the next, infecting each individual as it goes. Everyone starts running for their lives. Too often, these mass panics end up with tragedies.
Fear contagion does not require direct physical contact with others. Media distributing terrifying images and information can very effectively spread fear.
Moreover, while antelopes on the savanna stop running once they’re a safe distance from a predator, scary images on the news can keep you fearful. The feeling of immediate danger never subsides. Fear contagion didn’t evolve under the always-on conditions of Facebook, Twitter and 24-hour news.
Tempering fear others transmit to you
There’s no way to prevent fear contagion from kicking into gear – it’s automatic and unconscious, after all – but you can do something to mitigate it. Since it’s a social phenomenon, many rules that govern social behaviors apply.
In addition to information about fear, information about safety can be socially transferred too. Studies have found that being in the presence of a calm and confident person may help overcome fear acquired through observation of others. For instance, a child terrified by a strange animal will calm down if a calm adult is present. This kind of safety modeling is especially effective when you have your eyes on someone close to you, or someone you depend on, such as a caretaker or an authority figure.
Also, actions matter more than words, and words and actions must match. For example, explaining to people that there’s no need for a healthy person to wear a protective face mask and at the same time showing images of presumably healthy COVID-19 screening personnel wearing hazmat suits is counterproductive. People will go and buy face masks because they see authority figures wearing them when confronting invisible danger.
But words do still matter. Information about danger and safety must be provided clearly with straightforward instructions on what to do. When you are under significant stress, it is harder to process details and nuances. Withholding important facts or lying increases uncertainty, and uncertainty augments fears and anxiety.
Evolution hardwired human beings to share threats and fears with others. But it also equipped us with the ability to cope with these threats together.
Gov. Tom Wolf ordered bars, restaurants, and other businesses shuttered across the state on Monday, even as the number of COVID-19 cases statewide continued to climb. Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison has what you need to know.
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a series of internal rules changes that will allow the 203-member chamber to continue to conduct its business during the course of the outbreak. Among the changes, a measure that will allow some lawmakers to cast votes without being in the Capitol. Stephen Caruso runs it down.
Pennsylvania’s April 28 primary date could still be moved as the state continues to contend with the virus, Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday. County officials are bracing for what comes next.
Our Erie Correspondent, Hannah McDonald, a restaurant server by day, is among those who have been affected by the shut down of bars and restaurants. And she’s now out of work. In a first-person column, she gives her perspective on the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on working Pennsylvanians.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney ordered the shutdown of the city’s court system, and all non-essential businesses and government offices, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.
In Pittsburgh, criminal justice reform advocates have called for the ‘decarceration’ of the Allegheny County Jail, our partners at the Pittsburgh Current report.
On our Commentary Page, opinion regular Ray E. Landis says Pennsylvania should adopt a state-sponsored savings plan for adults, like a 401(k), if it wants to make sure the golden years are golden for a graying population. And as tough as social distancing is, staying apart is the best way for Americans to stay together, a Misericordia University scholar argues.
The Inquirer looks at COVID-19’s potential impact on small business with Gov. Tom Wolf’s shut down order on Monday.
Pittsburgh City Paper has its list of restaurants with curbside pickup, table service and special menus.
The Morning Call similarly talks to the restaurant industry about the administration’s shut down order.
Amid the coronavirus crisis, Pennsylvanians are also stocking up on guns and ammo, PennLive reports.
Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:
WHYY-FM has the latest updates from Philadelphia and Delaware.
The PA Post looks at what might happen if businesses don’t comply with the administration’s order.
A revised coronavirus relief bill is headed to the U.S. Senate, Roll Call reports.
What Goes On.
With Monday’s House vote, and with the chamber on a 12-hour call, the state Senate has pulled the plug on a planned Tuesday voting session, It, too, is on a 12-hour call.
Gov. Tom Wolf and other administration officials will update on COVID-19 activities. The time of the briefing is TBA at the moment. We’ll be there to cover it when it happens.
If, like us, you’re house bound, and in need of some chill tunes to get through the workday, here’s a great mix to start the day.
Tuesday’s Gratuitous History Fact.
Today, in 1905, Albert Einstein finishes his paper explaining the Quantum Theory of Light, a foundation of modern physics.
And now you’re up to date.