The human brain makes decisions in two basic modes. One is analytic, which involves carefully weighing costs and benefits and choosing the best option. The other mode is intuitive: doing what feels right. Both have their merits. Intuitive thinking allows us to make split-second decisions. It helps guide our romantic lives and our lunchtime sandwich choices. But it is not the mode that should inform a strategic response to a pandemic.
Even casual observers of President Donald Trump’s mode of thinking long ago abandoned hope that he might embrace analytic reasoning (sometimes referred to simply as “science”). But if there were ever a possibility that he might at least come to terms with the power of the coronavirus, it would have been when it sent him to the hospital. Barely a month ago, recall, we had cause to speculate that the president might soon be dead. Although details of Trump’s illness remain concealed—including abnormalities in his chest CT scan and the date that he first tested positive for the virus—the known facts of his case indicate that it was not mild. He received supplemental oxygen to keep his red blood cells saturated, and he was prescribed dexamethasone, which is recommended only in serious cases.
Many patients emerge from illness having had a come-to-Jesus moment that reorients their thinking. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for one, issued a mea culpa last week after he was discharged from a COVID-19 hospitalization that included a week in the intensive-care unit. “When you get this disease, it hits you how easy it is to prevent,” he wrote under the headline “I Should Have Worn a Mask” in The Wall Street Journal. “We are asked to wear cloth over our mouth and nose, wash our hands and avoid crowds. Seldom has so little been asked for so much benefit.”
Trump had no such revelation. Instead, in the weeks since his illness, he has escalated from downplaying or neglecting the virus to outright denialism. [Continue reading…]