Why Do Some People Not Observe Social Distancing And Other Public Health Directives?

Header image by Iqbal nuril anwar from Pixabay

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and our lives haven’t been the same since. Official healthcare bodies such as the WHO, CDC, and many others, have all suggested that observing general public health measures is paramount to combating the pandemic – measures such as wearing masks, handwashing, and social distancing.

With many countries around the world entering the third wave of COVID-19 infections, these measures are now more important than ever, yet many people blatantly refuse to follow these measures. Why is that? Before we tackle that, let’s talk about why these public health measures are so important.

Why is Social Distancing and Other Measures so Important?

They prevent the spread of infection for starters, and prevention is better than cure – especially true for COVID-19. Yes, it is important to have ICU beds, enough ventilators, oxygen supply, and the best physicians and critical care specialists to treat COVID-19, but never having been infected in the first place is a far more favourable outcome.

They are measures that anyone in our society can implement. From the healthcare workers in the hospitals to the preppers stocked up with toilet paper and N95s, to the everyday man on the street – anyone can contribute and implement these measures to help prevent infections.

They’re cost-effective – in fact, they’re mostly free to implement. Staying 5 feet away from someone costs nothing, washing hands only requires soap and water, and masks are cheap enough that healthcare facilities usually distribute them to patients for free. The costs associated with implementing these measures are negligible, provided that people can implement them properly and think for themselves – and therein lies the trouble.

People who follow these public health measures possess three characteristics:

  • They trust the health information given to us by professionals. They realise that these are experts in the field, and are advising us with the best intentions and no ulterior motives
  • Secondly, they recognise that the measures they implement now will decrease the rate of infection, and allow us to beat the pandemic sooner. In other words, they can look at the bigger picture and realise things will work out better in the long run
  • Finally, they are willing to make sacrifices and undergo minor inconveniences now for a better long-term outcome, and for the greater good.

Let’s look at each of these aspects in turn.

Misinformation and Conspiracy Theories

They don’t trust the information. They believe, or have been led to believe, that the CDC is lying to u, and has ulterior motives. There’s also the issue of the numerous conspiracy theories floating around – the virus was planned, 5G, Bill Gates is tracking us with the vaccines – which, while seemingly absurd, serve to only add fuel to the fire.

Loss Of Control

People don’t like being told what to do, especially people from advantaged backgrounds. For many people, they are being restricted for the first time in their lives and it doesn’t sit well with them.


Tying in with the previous point. People are not willing to make minor sacrifices if it inconveniences them, and will see to their own needs and wants only – even if it means more people get sick and the disease is spread.

So now that we know why some people aren’t following social distancing and other basic public health measures, what can the average person do about it?

You could try to educate them about COVID-19 and the importance of limiting the spread. Here’s a great article from Lifehacker on How to Talk to a COVID Denier.

Some people, however, simply cannot be reasoned with no matter how hard you try. In those cases, it’s best to leave them be and simply make sure you yourself are following the public health directives and doing what you can to fight the pandemic.

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