“COVID deaths are actually worse now than when we were all freaking out about it in the first week of March 2020, but we’re habituated to it, so we tolerate the risk in a different way. It’s not scary to us anymore,” said Annie Duke, a former professional poker player, and author of books about cognitive science and decision making. “We’re just used to it.” Flu, for example, continues to kill thousands of people every year, but we have long become accustomed to that.
A dramatic example of the “habituation effect”: Duke compares COVID and flu to infant mortality throughout the ages. In 1900, the infant-mortality rate was 157.1 deaths per 1,000 births, falling to 20.3 in 1970, and 5.48 deaths per 1,000 births in 2023. “If the 1900 infant-mortality rate was the same infant-mortality rate today, we’d all have our hair on fire,” she said. “We think we would not live through that time, but we would, as people did then, because they got used to it.”