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Are we psychologically prepared for the coronavirus outbreak?
From travel restrictions to forced isolation, the new coronavirus brings psychological threats, too.
- The novel coronavirus has spread to all continents except Antarctica, and it's infected more than 90,000 people as of early March.
- In China, mental health officials are trying to keep up with thousands of service requests from doctors and civilians facing fear, anxiety and exhaustion.
- It's unclear how Americans will react if the outbreak intensifies.
Scientists have a decent understanding of how the novel coronavirus affects the body. But what's less clear is how the outbreak — its death toll, what governments do to control it, etc. — will affect peoples' psyche.
The situation in China provides clues: For weeks, millions of people across dozens of cities have been living under lockdown conditions, with many unable to travel, go out in public, or in some cases, leave their housing complex. Many have been isolated in mandatory quarantines. China's President Xi Jinping told citizens: "Staying indoors is your contribution to the Party and the Country."
But for people in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, these containment measures seem to be taking a psychological toll. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors have been responding to a "surge" of service requests from doctors and civilians in the city, most of whom are dealing with panic, fear of infection, or financial stress, according to the Wall Street Journal.
How will Amercians respond, psychologically, if the outbreak intensifies? It's a sobering question to consider, especially in light of estimates that 40 to 70 percent of the world's population might become infected. In other words, we might soon enter a scenario where most of us know someone who dies from coronavirus, as The New York Times reported last week.
So, when gauging how Americans will react psychologically, it's worth looking at how the Chinese are responding, and then factoring in cultural and political differences between Americans and the Chinese. For example: Americans might be more psychologically sensitive to the outbreak and its political ramifications, considering:
- The Chinese are, presumably, more experienced with viral outbreaks; they suffered the brunt of the 2002 SARS epidemic.
- The Chinese are also more accustomed to the government exercising top-down control; Americans would likely respond more disagreeably to being told they can't book a cross-country flight.
Carl Court / Getty
However, it wouldn't be the first time the U.S. government compromised citizens' individual liberties to control the outbreak of a contagious disease. In response to the 1918 Spanish Flu, for example, officials in some U.S. states banned public gatherings, forcibly isolated and quarantined the ill, and closed public schools for weeks at a time. This was the last time the government exercised large-scale quarantine and isolation measures.
In recent weeks, Americans have undergone mandatory quarantine at the nation's borders, where the federal government's protective powers are most clearly defined. On March 3, more than 100 Americans who had been passengers aboard a Diamond Princess cruise ship were released after spending two weeks in quarantine. Americans who recently returned home from China have also had to undergo quarantine.
Although the federal government is within its power to isolate and quarantine at-risk citizens, some civil rights activists say these measures violate individual liberty.
"Quarantining somebody is an extraordinary deprivation of their liberties," American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst Jay Stanley told CNBC. "There's a burden on the government to determine that it's really using the least restrictive alternative."
Courtesy CDC/Alissa Eckert
Beyond political implications, quarantining people may yield negative psychological effects. In a recent episode of the American Psychological Association's "Speaking Psychology" podcast, host Kaitlin Luna cited research on people who were quarantined during the SARS epidemic.
"They found that many had psychological distress including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression," she said. They found that the longer someone was quarantined, the higher likelihood that he or she would experience PTSD symptoms. Obviously, this shows that being isolated from others can bring up a host of negative feelings."
But what about the millions of Americans who will never be quarantined or become infected? How will they respond psychologically? The advice from most health professionals seems to be: start preparing yourself.
"The most important recommendation is don't panic, but prepare," Dr. Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, told Vox. "We're not going into a crazy movie situation where the world is on fire, but we may be going into a situation where there are people walking around who are sick."
The 'adjustment reaction'
Part of mentally preparing yourself involves understanding what some crisis communicators and psychiatrists call the "adjustment reaction." This phenomenon describes how people typically react to a new and potentially serious risk, like coronavirus. For example, people tend to: pause, become over-vigilant, personalize the risk, and take extra precautions.
The adjustment reaction isn't necessarily a negative or naive response to crisis. Rather, it seems to help people cope, and to prevent overreactions down the road.
"The 'adjustment reaction' is a step that is hard to skip on the way to the new normal," risk communications experts Jody Lanard and Peter Sandman wrote in a blog post about coronavirus. "Going through it before a crisis is full-blown is more conducive to resilience, coping, and rational response than going through it mid-crisis."
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Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Here's why you might eat greenhouse gases in the future.
- The company's protein powder, "Solein," is similar in form and taste to wheat flour.
- Based on a concept developed by NASA, the product has wide potential as a carbon-neutral source of protein.
- The man-made "meat" industry just got even more interesting.
Seriously sustainable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDIzNS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjM4NTMzMX0.BCEfYnn6C3z1zUHIS38xOWjXktgamNBi5iyqklSMYK8/img.png?width=980" id="ea524" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="50533380eeb18eb5833b6b6aa3abec38" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>Solar Foods makes Solein by extracting CO₂ from air using <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90356326/we-have-the-tech-to-suck-co2-from-the-air-but-can-it-suck-enough-to-make-a-difference" target="_blank">carbon-capture technology</a>, and then combines it with water, nutrients and vitamins, using 100 percent renewable solar energy from partner <a href="https://www.fortum.com" target="_blank">Fortum</a> to promote a natural fermentation process similar to the one that produces yeast and lactic acid bacteria.</p><p>When the company claims its single-celled protein is "free from agricultural limitations," they're not kidding. Being produced indoors means Solar Foods is not dependent on arable land, water (i.e., rain), or favorable weather.</p><p>The company is already working with the European Space Agency to develop foods for off-planet production and consumption. (The idea for Solein actually began at NASA.) They also see potential in bringing protein production to areas whose climate or ground conditions make conventional agriculture impossible.</p><p>And let's not forget all those <a href="https://www.bk.com/menu-item/impossible-whopper" target="_blank">beef-free burgers</a> based on pea and soy proteins currently gaining popularity. The environmental challenge of scaling up the supply of those plants to meet their high demand may provide an opening for the completely renewable Solein — the company could provide companies that produce animal-free "meats," such as <a href="https://www.beyondmeat.com/products/" target="_blank">Beyond Meat</a> and <a href="https://impossiblefoods.com" target="_blank">Impossible Foods</a>, a way to further reduce their environmental impact.</p>
The larger promise<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MDI0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjU4MTg2OX0.7dZZYT5WEV_EupBuLVFwHynarTiz8RYR9aJtC6Ts2C4/img.jpg?width=980" id="3415d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e6eebe06d795f844752f9e9d30040d7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Solar Foods<p>The impact of the beef — and for that matter, poultry, pork, and fish — industries on our planet is widely recognized as one of the main drivers behind climate change, pollution, habitat loss, and antibiotic-resistant illness. From the cutting down of rainforests for cattle-grazing land, to runoff from factory farming of livestock and plants, to the disruption of the marine food chain, to the overuse of antibiotics in food animals, it's been disastrous.</p><p>The advent of a promising source of protein derived from two of the most renewable things we have, CO₂ and sunlight, <a href="https://solarfoods.fi/environmental-impact/" target="_blank">gets us out of the planet-destruction business</a> at the same time as it offers the promise of a stable, long-term solution to one of the world's most fundamental nutritional needs.</p>
Solar Foods' timetable<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTk0MTEzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5OTU1OTMwMn0.wnXh56iO_77x2XKV2uIPf78BKw4AJLUpmiyq_JBVGvo/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=172%2C146%2C62%2C135&height=700" id="0297c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="125c9a98ec818f5c241fa28ef1423e67" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Lubsan / Shutterstock / Big Think<p>While company plans are always moderated by unforeseen events — including the availability of sufficient funding — Solar Foods plans a global commercial rollout for Solein in 2021 and to be producing two million meals annually, with a revenue of $800 million to $1.2 billion by 2023. By 2050, they hope to be providing sustenance to 9 billion people as part of a $500 billion protein market.</p><p>The project began in 2018, and this year, they anticipate achieving three things: Launching Solein (check), beginning the approval process certifying its safety as a Novel Food in the EU, and publishing plans for a 1,000-metric ton-per-year factory capable of producing 500 million meals annually.</p>
The protein powder Solein. Image source: SOLAR FOODS
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