Tiny But Salient
I went to a restaurant last week. It was a celebration for my oldest son’s nonceremonial graduation from university. I was anxious about dining in public and my discomfort was obvious as my wife made special arrangements for our group, most of whom are vaccinated, to be separated from the rest of the restaurant. It was the first time I’ve eaten out in almost a year and it was wonderful.
My wife pointed out that my anxiety was somewhat irrational. She even sent me this article by David Leonhardt in the New York Times to reinforce her point. In it, he states, “We often underestimate large, chronic dangers, like car crashes or chemical pollution, and fixate on tiny but salient risks, like plane crashes or shark attacks.” My wife pointed out that I had already written about irrational responses to the pandemic in this blog. Remember toilet paper hoarding? It was so last year. But she was correct, and I needed to relax, so I quavered, “yes, Dear.”
The reality is that with every vaccine injected, we are getting closer to safety. Leonhardt argues, and data support it, that once vaccinated, the risk of getting COVID is in the “tiny but salient” category. I tried to make the argument that I wasn’t worried about getting COVID myself but that I was just trying to follow the rules and be an example, especially as we have seen growth rates continue to be positive over the last month or so. But the rules are all over the place now and society is done with examples.
The bottom line for me is that I need to focus on tiny risk more than salient risk. And perhaps we all should for our own good.
Jeffrey G. Chipman, MD, FACS
Frank B. Cerra Professor of Critical Care Surgery
Division Head, Critical Care, and Acute Care Surgery,
University of Minnesota
Executive Medical Director, Critical Care Domain, M Health Fairview