What Has COVID Done to Our Trust?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about our society – how we function both in person and online, how we view our communities and government, and a shifting perspective on our health and wellbeing. While  circumstances more than two years into the pandemic defied prediction, researchers have done their part to understand the effects that the pandemic has had internationally.  

A February article from The Lancet details the preparedness levels of governments around the globe regarding pandemics after seeing the effects and reactions from the COVID-19. The data concluded that there were high correlations between the preparedness demonstrated by governments for its people, the amount of trust embedded in those communities, and COVID-19 transmission and death rates. The article was credited to the COVID-19 National Preparedness Collaborators, with the lead author Thomas J Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations and a law professor at Georgetown University.

Measures of trust in the government and interpersonal trust, as well as less government corruption, had larger, statistically significant associations with lower standardized infection rates. High levels of government and interpersonal trust, as well as less government corruption, were also associated with higher COVID-19 vaccine coverage among middle-income and high-income countries where vaccine availability was more widespread, and lower corruption was associated with greater reductions in mobility.  

Statistics show that there are significant associations between both trust interpersonally and, in the government, and standardized COVID-19 infection rates. Those who held higher levels of government and interpersonal trust were more likely to have received the COVID-19 vaccine amongst middle and high-income countries due to more widespread availability of the vaccine. In turn, lower corruption was associated with greater trust and increased reductions in mobility. Studies from Denmark concluded that global infections might have been reduced by at least 13 percent if there had more trust in both the government and the communities in which citizens lived. 

For the past two years, COVID-19 National Preparedness Collaborators studied the daily virus infection rate in 177 countries and found substantial variations between the proportion of the population that lived below the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and the proportion of infection rates and the infection-fatality ratio (IFR). The measured factors contributing to infections were environmental seasonality, such as the risk of contracting pneumonia; population density; the proportion of population that is living below 100 meters at base elevation, which could have various effects surrounding respiratory infections; and previous exposure to beta-coronavirus variants. The infection-fatality ratio was measured with the following factors: age distribution of the population, previous exposure to beta-coronavirus variants, mean body-mass index (BMI), air pollution exposure, smoking rates, population density, standard age prevalence amongst chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer, and GDP per capita. 

Standardized infections per capita and standardized infection-fatality ratios 

The relationship between interpersonal governmental trust and corruption and changes in mobility patters and COVID-19 vaccination rates were also considered and utilized within the study. 

The connection between infection rates, community trust in the government, and individual health also correlated to the amount of access to the vaccine available to citizens of those regions. With high levels of government and community trust, there were higher COVID-19 vaccinations and, as such, a lower infection rate. Collaborators concluded that if there were a global increase in government trust amongst citizens, global infections could have been reduced by 13 percent. Additionally, if every country had a national BMI that was “equal to or less than that of the 25th percentile,” the infections could have been reduced by 11 percent. While there have been many efforts to improve the preparedness of and response to pandemics, there might be a great benefit in engaging communities in risk communication to boost confidence in both individuals and the government. This would help to promote the health and wellness of communities as well as reduce fatalities. 

Association between trust and government corruption, and vaccine coverage and change in mobility 

Trust is a significant pillar of our communities that can help, as shown, save lives and carry us through turbulent and unsure times. By trusting each other, we can help each other through the hardest of times. While the research conducted presents the understanding of how distrust of government officials and policies are harmful on an individual level, it also presents the understanding of how much trust should be fought for and embedded into our demonstrations of democracy on every level. By trusting one another and the chosen leaders of countries around the world, there is a higher chance of having positive impacts for the lives of millions. 

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Hailey Lanford

Hailey Lanford is a senior at The George Washington University, studying English and linguistics. She is a SAGE global communications intern, Virginia Young Poets in the Community fellow, and enjoys exploring Washington, D.C.

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