Weighing risks in a COVID era

As novel coronavirus infections cycle through spikes and plateaus and states and communities around the nation implement ever-shifting levels of restrictions, it can be difficult for the public to make informed and sensible choices, especially ones based on their own potential for a severe case of COVID-19. Mixed messaging can blur the lines between a safe activity and a risky one.

Aaron Scherer, PhD, assistant professor in General Internal Medicine, co-authored the Gerontological Society of America’s COVID-19 Decision Aid. This interactive tool assists people with the decision-making process regarding social situations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Scherer worked with Lisa Brown, PhD, ABPP, professor of Clinical Psychology, and other members of the GSA COVID-19 Task Force. 

“After recognizing that people were having trouble making decisions about what types of activities to engage in after states began loosening restrictions put in place to prevent the COVID, we thought a decision aid to help people make decisions that were most consistent with their values and levels of risk tolerance would be a good contribution to our COVID-19 response,” Scherer said.

Split into five sections, the guide walks readers through risk-increasing variables. People using the guide will need to answer questions about the activity, transportation, the individual’s health background, etc. After answering these questions, readers can visually identify potential risks of their decision and determine the next step. 

Using the formatting from Ottawa Hospital Research Institute’s COVID-19 aids, the team was able to determine the essential information for their aid. 

“We then brainstormed the types of things a person might value that might influence how happy they would be with the decision they were making and engaged in a search to identify the factors that increased or decreased peoples’ risk of getting COVID-19 by engaging in a social activities,” Scherer said.

While the online version of the decision aid is in English, a print version is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin. It should not replace the advice of a health care provider and is intended to help users who have not been exposed to COVID-19 and do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

“While we originally had older Americans in mind as the target audience for this decision aid, we ended up creating a decision aid that can be used by an adult of any age in any country,” Scherer said.

Scherer will also tap into his experience in health-care decision-making as a member of the World Health Organization’s Behavioral and Social Drivers of COVID Vaccination workgroup. WHO’s recently established project aims to identify the impacts of behavioral and social factors on COVID-19 vaccine decisions. The team will develop a survey and interview guide to quantitatively measure these factors, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries.

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