Coronavirus (COVID-19): Separating Fact from Fiction and the Psychology Behind it


A lot of friends and family have been asking me to help them sort out the facts and fiction when it comes to the COVID-19 virus.


What do we know?

The coronavirus has been with us for a long time. In fact, most of your colds are probably caused by a coronavirus. The strain 19 is new, but the family of the virus all tend to have a lot of the same characteristics.


What symptoms does COVID-19 cause?

80% are mild, which includes cough, sore throat congestion.

20% is a little more serious, which includes shortness of breath, and pneumonia.

2% mortality. While 2% sounds like a lot, it’s in the immunocompromised population, meaning underlying illness, treated or not. Keep in mind, as people age, they become more immunocompromised by definition. Like most things in our older bodies, the immune system doesn’t work as well as we age.


What is the incubation period?

The incubation period is one to seven days.


How is it transmitted?

COVID-19 is transmitted through airborne droplets.


How does it act once it gets into our bodies?

It hooks onto a cell and doesn’t allow the cell to do its job; instead, the cell starts to duplicate the virus. It duplicates over and over, which leads to symptoms. If our immune system is healthy, it’ll rise up, explode, and conquer it.


What don’t we know?



Transmissibility is how easy it is to infect somebody else. At first, it looked very difficult, but as time has passed, it seems like it’s easier to infect somebody else.

Is this a reporting problem? We’re not sure; we’re taking a look at that.



It tends to be more lethal than the influenza virus, again, in the immunocompromised population. We’re not quite sure about this and are continually looking into it.



When exactly is someone contagious? The incubation period is one to seven days. So are we contagious on day one, day three, day four? Again, we’re not clear.


Reacting as a Nation

As a Nation, how do we react to it? This is unclear too. There are two strategies; there’s the testing strategy and the banning strategy.

The testing strategy is when a nation’s method is to track anybody who has a symptom, test them, and quarantine them if they have it. Then, there are nations that are using the banning strategy. Banning travel in large congregations of people.

The studies are now showing that the testing strategy seems to be better at curbing this illness. But, for some reason, our country chose the banning method. It’s unclear why that is exactly. It could be there are not enough tests, it could be that we have them, but they’re not being distributed to all of the hospitals yet, it could be that we have the tests, but we don’t know what patients to use them on.


Reacting as Individuals

It is unclear how to react. As individuals, we are told the stay away from people, and self-quarantine but what does that mean exactly? For instance, if you suspect you have symptoms, and it might be COVID-19, what do we do? Go to our Doctor and take the chance of infecting other people? Stay in? Call somebody? Do we call the CDC? Do we report it? What do we do?

There are all kinds of general statements but not a lot of detail.


The Psychology Behind COVID-19


What is the psychology behind it, and what is it causing?



What is all of the hype and anxiety about? Anxiety comes from anything novel. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. If you have an upcoming award, you’re going to be anxious. If you have an upcoming party, you’re going to be anxious. Novel things cause anxiety, and that is normal.


Where are we getting this anxiety from?


Mixed Messages

We’re getting it from mixed messages. Mixed messages cause confusion, thus anxiety. It looks like no one is in charge; it seems like no one knows what they’re doing.

  • The mixed messages come from the media, calling it a lethal or deadly virus. For example, didn’t they say it’s a 2% mortality and only in the immunocompromised? That causes confusion.
  • Schools letting out in mass numbers. Didn’t we say the young only have mild if any cases?


Lack of Context

A lot of the media isn’t presenting the context for us to understand this fully.

For example, if I told you that 10,000 people die of the influenza virus, 180,000 people were hospitalized, and 19 million were infected with it, doesn’t that give us a little more reassurance when it comes to the coronavirus numbers? Perhaps.


The Looming Threat

There’s this idea that when a threat is far away, no matter how deadly, it’s not seen as very anxiety-provoking. When this started in China, we weren’t very concerned, same as when a hurricane is off the coast or a snowstorm is on the other side of the country, we aren’t so worried about it.

As it looms, as it seems bigger, it’s normal for us to get worried about it. The media has a way of making it look bigger by talking about it more. So we get that looming sensation, and that’s where the anxiety comes from.


What’s causing the mixed messages, the lack of context, and the looming sensation in the media?

It’s unclear; it could be for-profit, popularity, politics, or perhaps the lack of information.


What can we do about the anxiety?

In all cases of anxiety, in all cases of a looming threat, no matter how big or small, inactivity and overactivity (panic) are never good. In mental health, we stress to go for the middle ground.

  • Keep informed. Stay away from media that is not being responsible with their information.
  • Keep up with your hygiene, without going overboard.
  • Stay away from people who may have been exposed or have the illness. Also, stay away from the immunocompromised, even if you don’t think you have the illness.
  • Reconsider the tendency to act out due to being anxious. This is why people are buying toilet paper because they think it’s better than doing nothing.
  • Consider healthier ways to reduce anxiety such as yoga, mediation, pick up an old hobby, or start a new hobby.


Resources for coronavirus (COVID-19)

Center for Health Security

World Health Organization




  1. Charlie

    Very helpful. Thank you, Dr. Dabney.

    • Dr Laura Dabney

      Charlie, you’re welcome! I am glad you found it helpful.


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