The coronavirus pandemic has added another new word to the dictionary.

By Korin Miller
July 15, 2020
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When COVID-19 first became a global pandemic earlier this year, people scrambled to keep up. Suddenly, formerly household items like hand sanitizer and toilet paper became hot commodities, and there was a new language to learn. Terms like “covidiot” sprang up out of nowhere.

While the word covidiot is pretty widespread these days—seriously, look it up on Twitter—it’s understandable that you might have missed the definition between trying not to catch the coronavirus and learning to live in a socially distanced, mask-wearing version of reality. Here’s what it means to be a covidiot, plus what drives people to become one.

What is a covidiot, exactly?

Macmillian Dictionary defines “covidiot” as “an insulting term for someone who ignores health advice about COVID-19." Urban Dictionary takes a pretty similar approach, defining “covidiot” as “someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safety. A person who hoards goods, denying them from their neighbors.”

Basically, a covidiot doesn’t take COVID-19 and the risks of the virus seriously, despite what government officials and the global health community say. At the same time, they may also engage in selfish behavior that doesn’t look out for the greater good when it comes to slowing down and stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Who qualifies as a covidiot?

The term is thrown around a lot lately, but covidiots have been known to do things like act like nothing has changed, say COVID-19 is a hoax or overblown, get pissed off when they’re asked to wear a mask, or refer to COVID-19 as “just a flu.” A covidiot might also declare it’s their constitutional right to ignore social distancing guidelines and local regulations, buy up all the TP, eggs, disinfectant wipes, and hand sanitizer in sight, and host or go to parties where people aren’t social distancing or following other COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

OK, but why do people take on these risky behaviors right now?

Experts say it’s kind of baffling. “COVID-19 is a very contagious and dangerous illness that people need to take seriously,” Richard Watkins, an infectious disease physician in Akron, Ohio, and a professor of internal medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University, tells Health. Still, these reasons might help explain why a person would act like a covidiot.

They’re in denial. Some people just aren’t grasping the importance of the situation, says New Hampshire-based psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life. “They are in denial that the virus exists or is as bad as the media projects it,” he says. “This denial also spills into a false bravado—‘I won’t get it.’"

They’re not getting the potential ramifications of their actions. Covidiots tend to think they’re immune to the virus or won’t get seriously ill, Timothy Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells Health. While they may end up OK, that doesn’t mean the people they interact with will, too. “They may get infected, pass the virus along, and give it to someone who will get sick and die,” he says. “In many ways, it’s a social responsibility for people to commit to reducing the transmission of the virus.”

They think they’re rebelling. “A certain segment of the population just wants to be nonconformist and rebel against societal norms," say Dr. Watkins. "This has been seen as acceptable in the past, but it isn't now during a deadly pandemic."

They’re anxious. “When uncertainty and anxiety goes up, people tend to participate in more extremes,” Petros Levounis, MD, chair of the department of psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and chief of service at University Hospital, tells Health. “Some people are extremely vigilant, while others say, ‘Nobody knows anything anymore and I’m not going to wear a mask.”

They’re impulsive. This is especially likely after months of living under local restrictions. “It’s made some people more impulsive, and there are certain things about impulsivity that are bad right now, like throwing a party with 100 people,” says Dr. Levounis.

They think it’s about politics. Public safety around COVID-19 has become a political thing to certain people. “Another segment sees social distancing and mask wearing as a kind of political issue, like abortion or gun control,” says Dr. Watkins. “It is not. There are not two sides, such as anti-COVID-19 or pro-COVID-19.”

They’re selfish. Yep, went there. “We have created a large population of people that are more concerned about self-interests and their own gratifications than the good of larger society,” says Mayer.

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