How to Tolerate Ambiguity of COVID-19

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Someone said, “If we just knew when this would all end, we could hold on. But since no one’s given us a date, we need to go out and protest for our rights to have it end.” The problem is no one knows when this is all going to end, and the more people go out, the longer it’s going to take to end. The President said it would go from 15 to 0 cases, it would magically disappear, and it would be gone by April. He was wrong. No one can give you a date because there are too many factors involved, including how well people follow the guidelines set out by the experts, and too many unknowns. In order to make this work, people need to learn to tolerate ambiguity better.

What Is Ambiguity?

Ambiguity comes from having an unspecified end point or goal. You might have a vague notion of where you want to be or what needs to happen, i.e. the virus needs to stop infecting people or the numbers need to decline for 14 days straight, but you have no control over when or how that outcome happens. All you can do is keep following the steps until the goal, which is really unclear, is reached.

This is terrible for people and organizations. The military had a hard time with Afghanistan because they didn’t know what the politicians wanted for an outcome. What are we working toward? Right now, facing COVID-19 the problem is the same because we aren’t getting different messages from everywhere.

Mixed Messages

People are saying the mortality rate isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be because we haven’t tested everyone. We know that about 1 in 3 people that leave the hospital do so in a body bag, the percentage for cases with an outcome on May 4, stood at 28%. We also know that more than 68,500 people have died of coronavirus since Feb. 6, and we know that Feb. 6 is backdated to a case that was discovered April 21, which means more people could’ve died from COVID-19 than we realize. We know that if every currently diagnosed case gets healthy and every person survives from here on out with no new cases, the mortality rate will be 6%. These numbers are going to fluctuate and change as more people survive and more cases are encountered, but for now this is what we have to work with.

Our president still talks about opening the country while the experts are saying it’s too soon. The president then says he thinks Georgia is opening too soon. People talk about Sweden’s lack of a shutdown and say it was successful, even though they had three times as many people die as their neighboring countries. According to Johns Hopkins, New Zealand shut everything down for six weeks and is in the process of opening up; it had 20 deaths. Vietnam went aggressively after the virus and possible carriers and ended up with no deaths and fewer than 300 infected.

These mixed messages make it difficult for people to decide what they should and shouldn’t do. When the Vice President doesn’t wear a face mask and the president says “It’s not for me,” but the CDC says everyone should wear face masks, who do people listen to? What example do they follow?

Dealing with the Nebulous

The first way to deal with this ambiguity is to change your perspective. Rather than seeing the problems, see the challenges and find ways to overcome them. This isn’t easy at all, especially if your challenge is how to put food on the table and pay rent. But by simply looking at the stay at home orders as a challenge — can you really stay at home and for how long? — you’re setting yourself up to see if you can do something that might seem impossible. If you focus on “I have to stay home because someone told me to,” you’ll end up feeling controlled and rebellious. If you have a job you don’t like, and now you don’t get to do it, do you like it more?

Survival Needs: Food

Photo by Stella de Smit on Unsplash

Once you’ve set this up as a challenge, you can break it up into small goals. What do you need to survive? Food. Can you plant a garden and care for it? For a family of four, you’d need to have about two acres of land, which most people don’t have. But even a small garden can supplement your food supply.

Don’t be afraid to make use of the local food bank if you need to, especially if they’re offering fresh fruits and veggies. Even if you’re doing fine now, you might consider supplementing your food supply to avoid falling in the hole further.

Survival Needs: Housing

You need a place to live. This one’s a little more difficult if you have a landlord, property taxes, or a mortgage, because what it really means is that you need to find a way to make some money or save some money in other areas while you’re staying at home. What can you do to create an income? If you knit, sew, or woodwork and have supplies on hand, you can start an online store. If you are an expert in a certain area, you can start a blog. Online videos are another way to bring in some income. Write and publish a book. Become an Amazon affiliate. None of these is going to be a homerun unless you’re great at marketing and have a plan in place, but you might be able to make enough to offset a bill or two. That’s money that can be applied to housing expenses.

Cutting expenses can help in this category. Be fanatical about turning off lights and unplugging appliances that aren’t being used. It’ll make their little clocks flash, but every time you can save an hour or longer, you’re doing better for your finances. Do the same thing with water by figuring out how to wash the dishes, shave, and brush your teeth with the least amount of water possible. Eliminate one or more of your streaming options. If you have cable, consider cutting the cord. Keep your favorite streaming app, but get rid of the others.

Don’t order delivery for anything, especially restaurants, unless it’s something you absolutely need and having it delivered is cheaper than getting yourself. It’s bad for the economy, but it’s good for you and your family. If you have one or more vehicles you aren’t using, check with your auto insurance about reducing the cost of your premiums

Survival Needs: Health Insurance

You can’t live without health insurance anymore. It’s terribly expensive and inconvenient, but you need. Check with your state to see if you can get subsidized health insurance now that you’re not working. Some states make it easier to get help than others. If you get ill and have to go to the hospital, don’t expect treatment to be free. According to Time, one person got a bill for $34,000. There’s no way around health insurance. Even if you only go out for essentials, you could be infected by someone who has decided to ignore safety precautions. Still, take all the precautions possible and look now for a health insurance plan you can afford.

Survival Needs: Human Contact

People are social. You probably miss your friends. Call them, Skype them, Facebook chat them. Do whatever you need to do to get that human contact in a safe way. Fortunately, there are many electronic ways of keeping up with each other and interacting. Make use of them. It won’t solve the need for human touch, but it’s not forever.

Other Expenses

Photo by YTCount on Unsplash

If you have debt that you can’t pay, talk to your creditors and see what they can offer. Don’t wait until your savings is down to one month’s worth of bill payments. Call them now and mention “COVID-19,” which is the code word to open up their special offers. You’ll still want to pay at least the interest if you can, but if not, take advantage of what they are offering to help you until you can go out safely. For those debts you have to pay, find the one with the highest interest rate and pay that one off first while making the minimum payments for your other debts.

The Crux of Disasters

The American Red Cross tells everyone to pack games because most disasters are boring after the initial event. Now, if you’re hustling your online presence and trying to turn that into something for good, you may not need to find something else to do. Work on your online stuff, your marketing skills, and your search engine optimization knowledge. If you don’t need to hustle, there are plenty of online games and streaming websites to help pass the time. Read books, either IRL if you have them or online.

Time to Thrive

Places are hiring. Even if it’s not your preferred pay or type of work, you can find jobs that are remote. Make an application and see if you can bring in some income from home through a legitimate business. You may find you like it better than going to a place of work. Enjoy your family. Now is the time to spend with your family if you’re all sheltering together. If you’re alone, make use of technology as mentioned above.

Avoid the news and politics. Stay away from the hashtags and what the president, governor, and this or that group said. Listen to the experts, not your friends, even if they are well-meaning, and follow what they say. Block everyone else out, and if you have friends online, or random people who show up on your timeline, spreading lies and false information, simply report the post and block them. You don’t need that right now. If it’s a close friend, you can unfollow or snooze them on some social media platforms.

Change Will Come

Change is coming, and no one can go back to the way it was. We don’t know what that change will bring or how we will be affected, all we can do is pick our battles and roll with the change when it comes. If you can harness this type of mindset, you’ll be better able to face the ambiguity. Embrace the change, and you’ll be ready to thrive.




Earned a Master’s in Creativity and Innovation from Malta U., author of “Disneyland Is Creativity” and other books, other works available at

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Shad Engkilterra

Shad Engkilterra

Earned a Master’s in Creativity and Innovation from Malta U., author of “Disneyland Is Creativity” and other books, other works available at

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