Unionized hospitality workers, including Luis Estrada, at left, wait in line in a basement garage to … [+]
I called my parents a few days ago. “Mom, Dad, when did you last go up to the American Legion?” The night before, they told me. “Okay, cool. You might want to hold off on going back for the next two weeks or so. Have you been following the news on the coronavirus? Do you have any questions I can answer?”
I felt lucky. My mom is a registered nurse, my dad is retired US Navy, and both, in their 70s, have had enough previous health issues that I didn’t have to drive the point home. They take off every spring to travel throughout the US for half the year, but they had already been talking about maybe needing need to delay their May departure. They know how bad the novel coronavirus is for people their age, even if they were in perfect health.
But that’s not necessarily true of many others in their age group. I’ve heard from countless friends who are struggling to convey to their aging parents that this outbreak is the real deal. One begged her father to cancel his cruise. Another is trying to persuade her mother to skip church. Another is trying to talk her aunt out of a flight to visit an even older relative. Yet another’s in-law insisted on passing out tickets to a retirement community gala until the organizers cancelled it.
It’s not the flu. It’s not the swine flu. It’s not a passing illness. It’s deadly. And you care about them, so you really want them safe. Here’s how to convince them that they need to take COVID-19 seriously.
First, familiarize yourself with the facts. This STAT article very nicely outlines how the fatality rate varies by age, sex and health condition. Read through it to pick out the statistics you want, the ones you think might resonate best with the older folks you’ll be talking to, whether it’s a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, your next door neighbor or someone else you want to see buying Denny’s breakfasts at senior discounts for a long time to come. This Vox article also goes into a lot of detail. It’s a lot to take in, so you don’t need to memorize it. Just pick a couple quick facts you’ll have on hand.
If you already know one of their arguments is that this is “just like the flu,” have this graph handy.
Sometimes it’s easier to see the difference in fatality rates visually rather than just numbers.
Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, Our World In Data
Identify Their Reasons
In a great article about Millennials talking to their parents about the coronavirus, BuzzFeed points to three major themes contributing to seniors’ resistance: “misinformation, disidentification and general stubbornness.”
Much of the disinformation stems from a certain news network perpetuating the idea that this is an overblown plot by the Democrats to make President Trump look bad. Conspiracy theories abound about how the outbreak started, where the virus came from and how people are exploiting the outbreak, such as an image circulating on social media that suggests a “major disease outbreak” happens every two years during an election year and this is just the latest version of that.
If political disagreements, conspiracy theories or ideology are part of their refusal to take the outbreak seriously, don’t push back. They will only dig in deeper. Instead, point out those who are taking the disease seriously who they might trust, such as Tucker Carlson, who called it a “terrifying situation” on Fox News. As BuzzFeed pointed out, even Joe Rogan recently hosted an epidemiologist on his podcast. Try to steer the conversation away from politics—if you have to, agree that Trump is getting a lot of criticism, deserved or not—and focus instead on the numbers and the response of very smart people who are taking this seriously.
“Disidentification” is a fancy word for denial: they don’t think they’re really in the group that’s at risk. As BuzzFeed points out, many older adults may not feel “old” or “vulnerable.” So don’t use words like “old” or “vulnerable” or “weak” or “frail.” Instead, just focus purely on the numbers.
Make The Numbers Personal
Think about their specific social activities. Baby Boomers are more active than any past generation at their age. They volunteer, they regularly attend religious services, they organize events, they work out at the gym—or teach exercise classes themselves—and they still shop in person while their kids are ordering groceries online. Pick one of their activities and ask them to imagine the faces of the friends involved, the 10 friends in their exercise class or the five other women they meet at the coffee shop for a book club or Bible study. Tell them to look at those faces and imagine that all of them get COVID-19. At least one of them will probably die.
In China, the fatality rate for adults over 80 was about 15–18%, roughly one in six. Even people in their 50s were three times more likely to die than those in their 40s in China. By comparison, the annual seasonal flu killed about 0.8% of all US adults over 65 who got it in 2018-2019.
Deaths from COVID-19 sharply increase above age 50.
Our World in Data
In Italy, three out of five patients with COVID-19 who died were over age 80, according to the Wall Street Journal’s figures from Italy’s disease control agency. Another 1 in 3 were in their 70s.
Even in South Korea, which has very effectively managed the disease, the death rates are sobering. Among adults over age 80, the rate of death was 7.2%, so 7 of every 100 people with COVID-19 died. About 1 in 25 adults in their 70s with the disease died. The overall fatality rate in South Korea is 0.77%, but only one person in their 30s and one person in their 40s died. More than 99% of the deaths were people age 60 and older.
Age Is Just A Number—A Number That Matters This Time
Those at the highest risk are older adults with chronic health conditions, particularly high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. But even if your parents feel fit and healthy, it’s about age. The simple fact is that the immune system degrades with age, no matter how healthy you are. (It even happens in fish!) That’s why even healthy adults over age 65 are recommended to get the high-dose flu vaccine. The higher dose is needed because their immune system just won’t respond as well to a standard dose.
If the older adult you love has a chronic condition, this chart revealed their increased risk.
Our World in Data
Use Peer Pressure
If it’s just plain stubbornness you’re dealing with, peer pressure might help. Do they have any friends who are taking it seriously? Get those folks to help you. Is there anyone in the family they trust when they don’t trust anyone else? Recruit them. Point out that most of the people making decisions about mass closures are Baby Boomers—they’re in the same age range as those most at risk. Since what works depends on the person, let’s run through some facts that might help you get through to your parents.
- Disneyland has closed. Disneyland has only closed two other days in history: the day after JFK was assassinated and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts brought in $4.5 billion in profits in 2018. That’s about $12.3 million a day, and Disney has closed every park. An empire that size is not going to close its doors and forgo that much money just to look good.
- Every major professional sports league—the NBA, MLB, MLS, PGA and so on—have cancelled, suspended or delayed play. That’s millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in lost revenue. That’s not for PR reasons either, and no business executive who has made it high enough to make decisions like those is going to let paranoia take away that much money.
- Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, both 63 years old, are in an Australian hospital with COVID-19. No one over 50 would think of Tom Hanks as “old,” much less weak or vulnerable. If it can happen to Forrest Gump, it could happen to any of us.
- This isn’t the flu: this disease is at least 10 times more deadly than the common flu, according to the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
- School districts across the country are shutting down. Remember the last time that happened? For most people, schools haven’t shut down at this rate since polio outbreaks in the 50s. Perhaps remind them of those days.
Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples Are Cancelling Services
Houses of worship from every faith are cancelling in-person meetings for prayer and worship. Churches from Seattle to Fort Worth, Texas to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin have cancelled services, synagogues are cancelling Shabbat across the country, and mosques are cancelling Friday prayers. Christ Church in Georgetown closed its doors for the first time since the 19th century after their priest may have exposed up to 500 parishioners. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has asked all the state’s churches to cancel services.
Subsequently, Bishop John Stowe of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington dispensed Catholics of their obligation to attend Mass. “The sick and vulnerable people are especially encouraged not to attend,” he tweeted. And The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made their annual conference completely online.
If your parents are Christian and want to hear about the threat of the disease from a pastor himself, Dr. Miguel Núñez is pastor of the International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, as well as an infectious disease and internal medicine physician who taught medicine for eight years at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
“Without a doubt, we must be prudent and responsible, both in observing the recommended measures and also maintaining our health,” he wrote, and encourages people to “minimize physical contact with other people,” such as shaking hands, hugging and kissing.
Think Of Their Friends
Perhaps your mom or dad is made of particularly hardy stuff, or believes they are. No matter what you say, they’re convinced they’ll pull through if they get sick. That’s fine! But will their friends? Will their fellow church members? Will their dinner guests? Emphasize the fact that people can be contagious for up to two weeks without symptoms and not know it. If they catch it, even if they pull through, some of the people who caught it from them—people they care about—may not.
Consider Their Grandchildren
If your parent has grandchildren or other young people in their lives who bring them joy, point out how important it will be for them to see those children grow up. A friend of mine told her older parent, “Part of living longer is making decisions that don’t put your life at risk. Please choose to live longer for your grandchild, even if you won’t do it for yourself or for me.”
Practice What You Preach
Is one of your kids sick? Have you been in contact with a lot of people recently or just returned from traveling… anywhere? Cancel the weekly lunch with your dad. Skip church. Tell your mom you might not make it to Passover dinner this year. Make it clear that you love your parents, and you love them so much you want to protect them and other adults around you by doing what the experts recommend: social distancing.
Hopefully one of these strategies works. If so, great! If not, you’ve done your best. Whether you’ve succeeded or not, give them the tools they need to stay safe. Keep it simple and share this excellent list of tips is from CNN here.