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'Caution fatigue' during COVID-19 and how to fight it

"Over time our body and brains adapt to divert less energy into that threat and maintaining our vigilance... requires energy, focus..." Dr. Kaz Nelson said.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported 308 more COVID-19 cases in the state and four more deaths—the lowest amount of deaths reported in a day since mid-April. In total, 1,384 Minnesotans have died from COVID-19; 1,095 of those have been residents of long-term care or assisted living facilities. 

Meanwhile, others parts of the country are seeing a surge in cases and experts warn the pandemic is far from over.

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"I think right now I don't see this slowing down through the summer or into the fall," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. 

Dr. Osterholm said on Meet the Press Sunday that people are back to a "pre-pandemic mindset." 

"We just have not really I think gotten the message across to the public yet that this is a very serious issue. That we can't shut down our economy but we just can't suddenly say we're done with it," Dr. Osterholm said. 

One problem is that people are experiencing "caution fatigue." 

"This caution fatigue or alarm fatigue is a perfectly natural and totally unintentional process. So even though this is happening, it's nothing that anybody necessarily wants to happen. It's kind of a universal phenomenon... over time when we have things that are threatening our environment that cause alarm bells in our environment, over time we can kind of get used to that and stop paying as much attention to the threats that are around us," explained Dr. Kaz Nelson, a psychiatrist with M Health Fairview and vice chair for education at the University of Minnesota Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. 

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Dr. Nelson has four tips for fighting caution fatigue. First, recognize it takes energy to stay vigilant and conserve some energy for it. Second, try to avoid information overload. 

"Best practice there is to identify one or two high-quality credible sources, based on science, and to really focus on and elevate those sources of information as to what you're going to respond to as you plan your pandemic response," Dr. Nelson said. 

Third, some are more successful than others at fighting caution fatigue. Dr. Nelson said it's good to remember you can only control yourself and it may not always be useful to look around and see what others are doing. 

Dr. Nelson's final tip is to find a new motivating factor when fear no longer has an impact. 

"Maybe start to think differently regarding our response and saying, 'Engaging in safe practices is a way to help other people and serve other people' and really try to motivate ourselves using positivity rather than fear which has lost a little bit of its effect," Dr. Nelson said. 

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Monday, MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said, "We have started to see some cases in the younger age group that might suggest that they're just feeling like, 'This isn't a big deal for me' or 'I'm not worried about it' and yet unfortunately we have seen three deaths in individuals in their twenties." 

Ehresmann added, "We all have to be doing our part to make sure that we are social distancing, wearing masks, all of those things because we certainly don't want to see our cases increase and then have to dial back."

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-297-1304 or 1-800-657-3504, available 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.