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This NewsWise article features Susan Joslyn and Adam Kuczynski discussing “quarantine fatigue.”

UW experts on understanding ‘quarantine fatigue’ and protecting workers

As the push to relax social and economic restrictions for combating the pandemic gain traction, we need to understand personal motives behind what many experts consider a dangerous rush to “reopen" and how to protect workers most at risk when communities do “go back to work.”

According to cell phone mobility data, more and more people are getting out of their houses. And this “quarantine fatigue” or “cabin fever” is evident in states that are relaxing their restrictions, as well as those still under stay-at-home orders. 

What’s behind the trends? And what’s the cost to society?

Following are statements on these issues from University of Washington researchers Susan Joslyn, an associate professor of psychology who specializes in decision-making; Adam Kuczynski, a graduate student in clinical psychology who is also co-leading a regional social distancing study;; and Marissa Baker, assistant professor in the School of Public Health with expertise in worker exposure to disease.


Seeing others out and about may give the impression that the likelihood of infection has abated, making a variety of activities seem less risky.

Government officials can try to persuade people to by emphasizing why it’s important to remain vigilant, and focusing on what is still safe to do. Although the risk may be reduced it is not absent altogether, if it begins to spread we might be back at square one.


When the motivation to return to normal is so strong, we might seek out evidence that confirms our beliefs and ignore or downplay evidence that is disconfirming. When we see other states reopening, we may give that undue weight on what it means for our own personal safety and the safety of the public as a whole.

There is an incredible sense of loss right now, ranging from loss of our normal routines all the way to loss of loved ones. We habitually seek social connection and emotional support from others when faced with major stressors such as these, but the ability to seek connection has become extremely limited for so many of us. This has the potential to make us feel incredibly alone in a struggle that we are all facing together. 

Most people are interacting with others much less frequently than usual, and loneliness can have its own set of deleterious consequences. Feelings of loneliness function to motivate us to seek connection with others in the same way that feelings of hunger motivate us to find food. In a normal world that is extremely healthy and adaptive behavior, but right now it is extremely dangerous.

Read the entire article here.