Welfare and wellbeing blog: Managing different attitudes to COVID precautions | University of Oxford
Woman in red sweater and mask. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash
Woman in red sweater and mask. Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Welfare and wellbeing blog: Managing different attitudes to COVID precautions

You may be finding it frustrating that those around you have different ideas about COVID precautions than you do. This new blog explores how you can navigate these differences, whichever view you take.

In recent months we have seen individuals across society respond very differently to government directives regarding social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures: for example, the requirement to wear masks, pedestrian ‘one-way’ systems, limitations on social gathering, etc.

New communities, new challenges

Now, as students form communities in Oxford, we are in some cases observing the same thing. All students have been asked to sign and comply with the University’s Student Responsibility Agreement, but while some are committed to complying fully with mandated prevention measures, others are more reluctant or resistant to doing so. There are many reasons for these differences. They may be a function of different nationalities, backgrounds, health vulnerabilities or personalities.

Whatever the reasons, you may find it frustrating to discover that those around you have different ideas about COVID precautions than you do. If you take a relaxed view, you may feel frustrated to discover that not everyone around you is as comfortable with that as you are. On the other hand, if you are concerned about infection risk and are acutely aware that government guidelines are not merely ‘suggestions’ but are legally enforceable, you may find it very unsettling and upsetting to observe others behaving in ways you do not believe to be safe or legal.

Keep up the conversation 

It is important that, as we navigate these differences, we communicate explicitly with each other. It would be all too easy for differences to lead to formation of polarised groups: groups in which members take a relaxed stance about COVID, and groups—or isolated individuals—who feel unsafe or alienated from communities which they may perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be dominated by those not taking sufficient precautions.

The Counselling Service would like to offer messages to those at both ends of the spectrum of attitudes.

To those who feel (relatively) unconcerned about COVID, and determined to have what they regard as the most normal possible social experience of university:

  • The strength of your desire for a socially ‘normal’ experience is entirely understandable. But be honest with yourself if your anger about the impact COVID is having on your life is leading you to behave in ways that are destructive to your community.
  • Be mindful of the possible impact of your behaviour on others within your communities. They might find it uncomfortable to confront you if you behave in ways they are not comfortable with—for example, spending time in a boyfriend or girlfriend’s household in contravention of the rules. They may nonetheless be very distressed by your behaviour. (This is both a legal issue and also one of consent:  if you propose something that raises their risk, you need to check explicitly that your actions are acceptable to them.) 
  • Channel your energy and creativity into creating COVID-safe opportunities to socialise and have other meaningful experiences.

To those who are highly concerned about the pandemic and would prefer to observe more scrupulous compliance with COVID safety measures:

  • Remember that individuals’ behaviour is partly a function of their culture. The fact that they behave as they do does not mean they are bad people.
  • Try not to allow yourself to experience disproportionate fear, as this could all too easily become an obstacle to having the experience of Oxford that you would like to. 
  • Avoid any temptation to disengage from your peers academically or socially. You are a full ‘citizen’ of Oxford, and deserve to feel safe in academic, social and other spaces here. 
  • If something is making you feel uncomfortable, have the confidence to speak up for what you need. 

To create strong, well-functioning communities it will be important for us to be thoughtful and sensitive to all of the differences between us, including differences in attitudes about the COVID-19 pandemic. This attention to each other’s needs and feelings can make a world of difference to the experience of the coming months.

You can explore the full range of blogs and podcasts created to support you throughout the pandemic on the Counselling Service's website.