When I fell ill late last year, the Coronavirus was almost entirely absent from international news. Some may have heard rumors of a mysterious disease infecting a distant corner of China, but the rest of us were blissfully ignorant. We were blithely planning holidays and social “nearing” without a second thought.
Lying in bed in December, too sick to even watch the TV, I had no idea I was exhibiting the classic COVID-19 symptoms that we’d soon come to know all too well.
I had a high fever, a cough, I’d lost my sense of taste and smell, I was exhausted and couldn’t think straight.
Looking back, what else could it have been?
Once I came out of the fog, I started thinking about the coronavirus, which by then we were hearing more and more about. But it wasn’t until there were rumours it may have hit the UK as early as last October that my nagging suspicions started.
The more I heard about this virus, and its symptoms, the more I started to believe I’d had it after all. And crucially, that I had already recovered. I was a survivor.
Working with BLOK BioSicence on its Immunity Passport concept meant I spent the first few months of the new year buried in research about the virus. The more I learned, the more I believed I’d had it. I was convinced I hadn’t just been poorly in December, I’d been struck down by COVID-19. That belief impacted my behavior. I didn’t wear a mask when I went to shops, and I boasted to friends and co-workers that I was certainly positive. I must have the antibodies. I felt protected, invulnerable.
I hadn’t taken a test yet but I believed, even without any evidence.
As a behavioral economist I can explain why I, and why many of us, feel this way.
I wanted to believe I was special. Someone who had been there, done that and got the t-shirt. And I wanted to believe I was safe, and that my family were safe. We didn’t have to be frightened of the worst case scenario, of the unknown.
Working with Blok BioScience gave me early access to a reliable antibody test, which I was sure as I waited for the results to appear in front of me, would be positive for the long term COVID-19 antibody IgG.
The line never appeared. I was negative. I had not had COVID-19.
I was angry at the negative test. I took another one, which confirmed the first.
I had been so certain. What was going on?
Well, the behaviorist in me can explain. Humans are born with big brains that we fill with our environments and surroundings. We’re clever, but we’re a bit lazy and our brains don’t process absolutely everything we see. Instead we find patterns and our brains fill in the gaps using past information. It’s why we can be fooled by optical illusions. The brain fills in what’s missing, and sometimes it makes the wrong assumptions.
I got caught up in several cognitive traps.
The first was getting very sick. I had never been that sick before. I expect that I will remember being that sick for the rest of my life. The second trap is that COVID-19 was all over the news, so it seemed very familiar and was everywhere. Third, I was pulled into a strong loop of ‘confirmation bias’. I spent so much time researching COVID-19, I started to identify with all the symptoms, and the sufferers. In that sense I had brainwashed myself into seeing and reading everything as though it applied to me directly. Fourth, I was scared for myself and my family. I didn’t want to be one of those parents or partners who had to send a loved one away in an ambulance, to never see them again.
Logging ‘negative’ in My Immunity Passport
The test I took was the Wuhan Easy Diagnosis rapid antibody test. These tests are over 90% accurate. I can now either continue to believe that I have had COVID-19, and that I’m one of <10% where the test wasn’t accurate. Or I can accept that I have not been exposed.
It took a while, and a few repeat tests, but I have accepted I have not had COVID-19.
Now I’ve come to terms with it, I can also change my behavior to match my status as antibody-negative. Real information is powerful. I’m more motivated now to wear a mask, to up my handwashing and to stay home to keep my loved ones safe.
Our aim at BLOK BioScience is to bring reliable testing to everyone, so we can all make the right decisions, based on fact, not on what our brains would like to believe. By regularly testing, logging the results in our Immunity Passport, and keeping track of whether you’re symptom-free or not, we give the power back to you to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Our actions make a big difference in our communities and for the NHS, and for all of us to make the right decisions, we need to be armed with the facts.
I know I’m not alone in my anger and disbelief at my negative test result. If it happens to you, I sympathize. But step back and evaluate your reasons for the anger and disbelief. It’s difficult, but like me, you need to go through a phase of readjusting your behavior to work in line with the facts. It’s hard, but you need to accept that you are no less vulnerable than anyone else.