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Why some aren’t 'overly hopeful’ that people will follow COVID guidance for the holidays

UC Merced researcher Greg Wright explains what his studies have shown about why some people choose not to follow guidance from health officials.

CALIFORNIA, USA — Health officials like Sacramento County Health Director Doctor Peter Beilenson are all in agreement about trying to keep the number of COVID-19 cases down right now.

“The bottom line message that we want to get across is that for Thanksgiving till Christmas, during that holiday season, please, please don’t gather with anyone outside your family,” Dr. Beilenson said.

Yet we know people are gathering despite health officials asking the public to stay home. Greg Wright, associate professor of economics at UC Merced has been studying what exactly informs this decision making.

“It’s a little bit surprising because in other contexts, other disease outbreaks, people have found a slightly wider range of determinants of people’s behavior and response,” Wright said.

He said the factors usually include risk aversion, levels of altruism, or the impacts on personal health. However, when it comes to the coronavirus, those factors aren't as important as they once were, he added.

“What tends to be the most important thing these days is effectively partisanship,” Wright said. “You know, where are you getting your news and where you get your news tends to be determined by how you identify politically.”

As California struggles with the virus, he’s not overly hopeful about the next couple months.

“I’m not overly hopeful... about what’s going to happen post-Thanksgiving and post-Christmas,” said Wright.

Dr. Beilenson explained what he believes is likely to happen if people don’t heed the advice of health experts and instead continue to gather.

“We will have huge cases starting in about 3 or 4 days, up to two weeks afterwards," he said. "We will have a lot of hospitalizations. We will probably swamp our hospitals in the near future and there will be a lot more deaths.”


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