Here in Denmark the official communication around regulations and recommendations regarding COVID-19 has generally focused on the idea that “We’re in this together” and “Think about the potential consequences for others before doing anything”.

For example, I’ve seen posters recently with the line “Vær ikke den der sender alle hjem” (Don’t be the one that sends everybody home), which echoes this idea: Any action you take may have unintended consequences for others, and you should consider this.

It is understandable that the communication takes this form for a few reasons. For one, it’s preaching a highly social attitude which is something that Danes are generally quite fond of (that’s my opinion), but I don’t think many people actually practice (also my opinion). It is also easier to communicate ideals than orders - but I don’t think this approach is very effective though.

In an individualistc society (which I would argue we’re living in) there’s little focus on the general “We”.

An individualistic approach

What if we argued from a point of selfishness? You should consider before you go out: You are exposing yourself to some extra risk and is it worth it? Do you need to out? Do you want to accept the extra risk to yourself?

The fact is that by staying home, you’re not only reducing the risk to others but also to yourself. The more you shelter yourself, the less likely it is that you will contract the virus. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to talk about the risk to Yourself and Others, instead of just Others.

Honesty and transparency

There is a risk that this line of argument and communication would reduce to fear-mongering. This is another aspect of the communication I think the Danish government is doing poorly.

I recently wanted to ask the question: “From time of infection, how soon can a COVID-19 test show positive?”. This seems like an obvious question and one I thought would be addressed on the official Danish page on COVID-19 1. It’s not though. I ended up calling two different hotlines and being redirected once, before being told to write an e-mail to the Danish health authorities (which I did and two weeks later there’s still no reply).

(FYI there are generally two types of tests: A faster one that can only show if you carry the virus now, and another one that can show if you were infected because you have antibodies.)

The answer seems to be that it’s not really known. Some people say it’s around 24 hours after infection, others say after around four days. The honest answer would appear to be “we don’t know”. Which is fine by me, I just wish they would address the damn question! I’m perfectly fine with being told that some things are unknown instead of completely omitting the question so I cannot even be told that we don’t know.

The point I want to make is that I want the health authorities to be honest and transparent about what is known and what is not known.

There are a lot of things we don’t know about COVID-19 yet. Long-term effects from contracting the virus are still being discovered, and it seems pretty clear that people react differently to it. You could even compare it to a bad drug trip. Most people know - especially health professionals - that not everyone reacts the same to a given drug. This is also true of medication (and that’s why they carry warning labels about observed side effects). Like taking drugs, we don’t yet fully know the consequences of contracting COVID-19 and, like a bad trip, that is something I would imagine most people don’t want to find out.

Consider those you care about (including yourself)

I would say, as a yardstick for conducting yourself in a world where we are suddenly forced into changing our thinking around social interactions, consider not just Others, but Yourself and Those You Care About. It’s much easier to connect emotionally to the thought of your frail grandfather, or a sick aunt, and consider how much new risk has been added to their world. Conduct yourself to protect them. And it should also be acceptable to think about Yourself. Conduct yourself to protect yourself.

We’re all in this together - you included.

(There is a limited number of sources and references because I wrote this off-line.)