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Covid-19 Disbelief Saddles Health-Care Workers With Another Challenge

Dr. Michaela Schulte works overnight shifts at St. Luke’s Health System hospitals near Boise, Idaho, treating some of the hundreds of critically ill Covid-19 patients filling hospital beds in her state during the most severe period of the pandemic so far.

She, like many other health-care workers, faces yet another challenge in keeping up with the recent surge in coronavirus cases: A number of people in her community say the virus isn’t as bad as public-health and news reports indicate—and some say it isn’t real.

Outside the hospital—at the grocery-store checkout line after work, or through family friends—Dr. Schulte says she hears people calling the virus a hoax and saying medical professionals are exaggerating the severity. The disbelief, on top of the relentless physical and mental demands of their jobs during the pandemic, is draining many hands-on medical workers and making it even harder for them to provide care, they say.

“We see what is happening—and then to reconcile that with some of the disbelief that you run into is very hard,” Dr. Schulte said. “It’s a parallel universe.”

Covid denial, as some health-care workers call it, can take forms ranging from a belief that Covid-19 is no more serious than a routine cold, or a belief that face masks aren’t effective at slowing the spread, to the idea that the pandemic is an elaborate hoax.

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