Coronavirus and the Terrible Metaphor of “Peaks”

(Quick Thought)

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Photo by Jerry Zhang on Unsplash

I think with the coronavirus we need to be careful with the term “peak” that keeps being thrown around (metaphors matter, as discussed in Midwives and Metaphors). We keep hearing that “cases are peaking in New York” and Europe, which creates the impression that “it’s all downhill from here.” This isn’t the case: we’re hitting something more like “a five-week high,” but things can certainly get worse if we stop social distancing. The metaphor of “peak” implies that the crisis is almost over when Covid19 is likely to be with us until a vaccine comes out a year from now (if not longer). Sure, if you ask people directly, they say they know it will be a year, but what matters is how people act, and in my view, people are acting like we’ve only got a few days left to go. Metaphors work on people subconsciously, and if the metaphor of “peak” turns out to be unfitting, people could get angry. Because of “peak,” people are mentally prepared only for an inconvenience, not a long-term change of lifestyle. The metaphor needs to change: I vote for “five-week high,” but I’m open to all ideas.

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