Help me persuade my dad to stay inside
March 25, 2020 5:23 AM   Subscribe

My dad lives in a large city (5mil +) in Europe and is refusing to self-isolate.

He's still having friends over to play poker, for example. I tried to persuade him to take greater precautions and it did not go well. His main argument was that life is full of risk and he believes the risk of COVID-19 is acceptable. His comparative example to me was driving, which he rightly observed resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities per year in his country, yet he continues to drive and I don't give him a hard time.

Can you please help me find (credibly sourced) statistical information that can help me explain how COVID-19 risk is not comparable to other risks we find acceptable, like driving and flying? I tried to explain the infectiousness and multiplicative effect, but didn't do an amazing job.

I really appreciate any and all help on this. I am quite worried about him.

I will note that I am really focused on this specific point about risk because the other obvious arguments have already failed to persuade him (look at Italy, think about your grandchildren, trust my judgment, experts disagree with you).
posted by prefpara to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Depending on stubbornness I’d think about risk mitigation. For example, does he wear a seatbelt when he drives? Perhaps if he can’t be convinced to stay home, he can be convinced to consider some of the many other safety measures we take in life and would be willing to wash his hands, have fewer people (or only the same 4 or so people) over to his home.

Obviously this is not ideal but it’s better than nothing
posted by raccoon409 at 5:37 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Driving is (in part) a skills-based activity. One can take precautions and learn rules that help keep one in a lower-risk category than the aggregate death rate might suggest (it's also nowhere near true that 2% of all drivers die in crashes annually, which is a somewhat more realistic comparison timeline than "will a given driver ever die of driving"). Here, there's nothing to do about being an old man.
posted by teremala at 5:41 AM on March 25

Well by choosing to fly you're not putting other's lives at risk. With COVID, up to 70 percent of a country's population might have it within weeks of first appearance, and many of those are asymptomatically endangering vulnerable people like pregnant women they might encounter.

Fine if he doesn't give a damn about his own risk profile/life, but most people including our stubborn older parents would agree he doesn't have the right to endanger others
posted by shaademaan at 5:44 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]

Does he respond to gentle persuasion or do you normally have to be very blunt? I had to be blunt. If blunt seems the way to go here’s my two cents.

My aunt was fairly oblivious so I sent her a link to a video comparing the obituaries in a Bergamo paper pre and post virus. That did get her attention and her grown up grandsons have told her they’ll start to distance themselves. At some point last weekend she also twigged that the per capita infection rate in my location was higher than in hers and she is now truly worried also about me. Clearly I don’t want to worry her but this is helping her be sensible so I feel it is a good thing at this point.

There are also videos of the furios Italian mayors telling people to stay home, being well exercised or nicely coiffed won’t matter when they are in a closed casket. They are all middle aged men who are absolutely losing it and not mincing their words and your father may find it more difficult to dismiss them if some of the problem is that he feels young people are overreacting to this.

And various articles and videos about what has happened in these hospitals in Northern Italy and in the residential care homes in Spain.

And there are many really good graphics that show the exponential infection rates and what that means over the course of a month.

The bottom line - between the realities of finite health resources and exponential infection rates he is welcome to choose to die in a hospital corridor or tent in a car park because they have run out of ventilators but by spreading the virus he is also actively increasing everybody else’s risk of doing that. And is he really ok making this worse for everybody as opposed to making it manageable?
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:57 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]

I doubt you’ll have much luck going down the "worry about your safety" route. I suspect you’ll do better with the "causing harm to others" approach. For the driving example: you could die in a car accident and that’s the way life is, but causing an accident that kills other people is not okay.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:00 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]

Maybe talk about how it's not just about risk of getting the virus at all. It's about the risk of devastating timing: the risk of getting it right now versus a month from now versus three months or half a year from now. Right now every country in Europe is dealing with not enough doctors, not enough nurses, not enough masks, ventilators, beds. Medical staff are losing their minds, their health, and in some cases their lives. If he doesn't mind getting sick, that's fine. If he doesn't mind getting the people he meets, and the people they meet sick, that's fine. But maybe he could do it a few months from now, when his sickness won't add to the load that everyone else is struggling so hard to carry. Maybe some information about the risks doctors and nurses have no choice but to face will have some weight.

On driving:

When you drive a car it's considered an acceptable risk, even though it potentially endangers other people on the road as well. But when you drive a car impaired that's considered an unacceptable risk, because it's easily avoidable and because you know the probability of an accident is much higher than normal. Imagine a taxi driver or a bus driver knowingly driving drunk, or with poor eyesight, or on alertness-impairing medication. Imagine a plane pilot or a surgeon doing their work drunk. The moral issue here is not that they're doing risky work, it's that they're doing risky work that is unnecessary and that unnecessarily puts others in danger.

Normally meeting with friends has a slight risk of infection with colds, flus, etc., but it's considered minor enough to be acceptable. The situation now is comparable to driving drunk. It's not what a responsible person does.
posted by trig at 6:14 AM on March 25 [9 favorites]

Why are the OTHER poker players not staying home? Maybe they would be easier to convince. Also, if his friends start isolating it will seem more normal for him to do so.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:18 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]

While he's not wrong about car fatalities... car crashes are not contagious, and do not pose any exceptional danger to people with compromised immune systems. It's a bogus comparison.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:37 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]

Your dad does have a reasonable point. Every time you take a car trip that isn't absolutely necessary you add to the risk of other people dying. But how many people do you know who try as hard as they can to limit time behind the wheel to save lives? Doing social distancing during a regular flu season would save lives too, but we don't do it. In our normal lives, we don't all do everything within our power to reduce risk to others as much as possible. So it's not crazy to question to what extent we're each obligated to do the absolute safest thing right now.

But it does look like if people don't do a lot of social distancing the number of COVID-19 deaths could easily be a lot higher than the number of annual deaths from car accidents or the flu. I'm not sure what country your dad is in, but if you look at annual US motor vehicle fatality rates you see there are around 35,000-37,000 deaths per year. If you look at annual flu deaths in the US, you see that's around 12,000 to 61,000. But projections indicate 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die in the US from COVID-19. You might be able to find similar figures for your dad's country.

The actions of any one person aren't going to make that big a difference to the overall infection rate, any more than the extra car trips you personally take make a big difference to the overall vehicle death rate. But if a lot of individual people do significantly change their behavior, a lot of lives could potentially be saved. Your best argument is probably going to be that COVID-19 is a bigger risk to people than driving is, so it's more important for each of us to try to reduce the risk.
posted by Redstart at 6:58 AM on March 25

Because car crashes aren't chained. One car crash is one car crash. It's not one car crash careening into two more cars, both of which then smash into four additional cars, each of those crashing into more clusters.... if that were happening we'd all stay the fuck outta the car crash region entirely, which is what us non-essential-workers who aren't stupid AF are doing. Keep your car off the road until the cluster fuck crash runs out of cars to crash into.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 6:59 AM on March 25 [10 favorites]

I recognize that you're in Europe, not the States, but perhaps the information on the AARP website will help?
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:09 AM on March 25

His comparative example to me was driving, which he rightly observed resulted in tens of thousands of fatalities per year in his country, yet he continues to drive and I don't give him a hard time.

Comparing the coronavirus to car accidents is a misguided idea:
"Estimates vary, but roughly 40,000 Americans die every year in auto accidents. We take all kinds of measures to prevent these deaths -- seatbelts, airbags, speeding laws, federal safety regulations imposed on auto manufacturers -- but accidents still happen, and many of them are deadly. It's true that many Americans nevertheless drive every day and there's little public demand to shut down the nation's highways.

But to assume there will be "far" fewer American deaths from the coronavirus pandemic is wishful thinking based on nothing. In fact, it's hardly outrageous to think this is dangerously backwards: the number of fatalities could be vastly higher, especially if Trump retreats from the current course, and unlike deaths from car crashes, the deaths would likely come quite quickly.

Do we shut down highways to prevent 40,000 deaths per year? No, we don't. Would we temporarily shut down the highways if there 400,000 deaths in less than a year? I sure as hell hope so."

Why 'Exponential Growth' Is So Scary For The COVID-19 Coronavirus:
Whenever you have exponential growth, whatever it is that's growing will double its presence/population in a given amount of time. Let's say you start with a population that has just one infected person on January 1st, and the number of infected people doubles every three days.

How many people will be infected by January 31? How many people will be infected by this year's equinox: March 19?

If the exponential nature of the infection transmission isn't stemmed in any way, there will be 1024 infected people on January 31: about a thousand times as many as you began with. That's a lot, but remember that this continues to double every three days as long as this growth remains exponential. On February 3, there will be twice as many: 2048 infected. On February 6, that rises to 4096. By the time you get to March 19, which is 78 days after the initial infection, some 67 million people will be infected.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:12 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]

One possible approach: A huge number of driving fatalities impact or are caused by the relatively small number of people who drive drunk. Going around like normal during a Covid pandemic is like driving drunk--elevated risk, to both himself and others.

Being over 60 and doing all this is like driving drunk and blindfolded.

To be explicit, the risk factors are: more likely to catch the infection during a pandemic; more likely to catch it without ventilators or other equipment being available, which literally elevates risk 10x; more likely to die if you are older, by huge margins. If he's just taking the base rate (or the base rate of everyone infected) he is not being statistically sophisticated.
posted by mark k at 7:53 AM on March 25

And on the driving point, as others have said we have well defined rules, safety procedures, etc in place. That's how it was in the medical community pre-covid as well - we had enough supplies, people, beds (give or take) to take care of the situations that arise. But now on the streets you could think of covid as a bunch of drivers who dont follow any of the rules, are crashing into everything and anything, and each time they do they multiply into additional reckless drivers. And we dont have the the supplies, people, beds, etc to take care of all those accidents. So we need people to stay off the road (ie self isolate) to not get hit by these rule-ignoring drivers all at the same time. We'll probably all get hit eventually by these nitwits on the road. But we need to spread it out so that the systems we have can properly take care of us when it happens.
posted by cgg at 8:07 AM on March 25

posted by oceano at 8:15 AM on March 25

The point of not spreading it around is not so no-one gets it. It's so that not a huge % of the population don't all get it at the same time and collapse the healthcare infrastructure. People who ignore the quarantine based on their own confidence for good health are being extremely selfish. No symptom people can spread it. Low symptom people can spread it. If everyone who "feels fine" carries on going out and about, they could be personally responsible for causing tens, dozens, hundreds of further infections. And a good proportion of those would need hospital care. And if the spread is allowed to continue rampantly, there will not be enough hospital care for them all, and some of them will needlessly die.

This is not speculation. This is what happens if the rate of infection is not slowed by people obeying quarantine measures.

This video explains it well. I think your father might listen to Dr John. He is very clear and firm.
posted by Balthamos at 8:25 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]

Perhaps this?
posted by elf27 at 11:24 AM on March 25

You are all so gentle--I would say "if you want to play Russian Roulette with yourself go get a gun(whatever, since he is Europe)" "If you want to play it with others you deserve to be arrested and I hope happens". He is being inflexible, rigid, etc. If he were thinking this rationally you would not have to convince him unless he has a habit of endangering his and other peoples lives. it is hard for people my age to change habits--There really is no reasonable alternative to a direct (semi) confrontational / limit setting approach. Don't over think this and handle as you would with a petulant but loved child. Good luck and I wish the community well
posted by rmhsinc at 11:27 AM on March 25


Related comment: Also in The New Yorker: Convincing Boomer Parents to Take the Coronavirus Seriously

Another related comment: [...] here's a piece in Buzzfeed: How Millennials are Talking to Their Boomer Relatives About the Coronavirus.

Comment from a related AskMe: What Do You Tell Someone Who Still Won’t Stay Home? (Joe Pinsker, Atlantic, Mar. 19, 2020) A guide to convincing your loved ones to take the coronavirus pandemic seriously

via the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page, Medical/Pandemic section, which includes links to public health authorities, AskMes, FPPs, and MeTas
posted by katra at 1:54 PM on March 25

The actions of any one person aren't going to make that big a difference to the overall infection rate

Actually: You Can Help Break the Chain of Transmission (Siobhan Roberts, NYT, updated March 20, 2020) (via the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health news updates)
Cutting a Link in the Chain of Transmission

A simple tree diagram shows how limiting contacts early might prevent many infections.

There is also: The Exponential Power of Now (Siobhan Roberts, NYT, Mar. 13, 2020), which is a chart comparing the estimated difference between averting one case now and averting one case in seven days.
via an AskMe that includes links to a lot of visualizations, charts and graphs: Info Graphics Showing Full Impact of Quarantining vs. Socializing (U.S.), although the "U.S." part is irrelevant for the purpose of the question.
posted by katra at 3:29 PM on March 25

Here's an excellent CBC article about how to talk to family and friends who ignore social distancing appeals.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:21 PM on March 25

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