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Coping With COVID As We Reopen

The SARS- CoV-2 Virus will be with us for quite a long time, right alongside the various flu viruses which are always with us.

So far it has wreaked havoc in so many ways, including illness and death, as well as causing a vast array of emotions and hardships including fear, anxiety, panic, helplessness and hopelessness.

The economic hardship has been severe. Notably there has been an increase in the use of drugs, alcohol, drug overdoses, fatal overdoses, mental health problems, domestic abuse, most likely child abuse (the later tough to quantitate because the children are primarily in the home setting with no observations made by school and after-school personnel), food insecurity, homelessness and increasing inequality. Although the illness may be mild, even asymptomatic, sadly it can be severe and life-threatening. Unfortunately, and predictable to many, as of this writing the death toll in the United States is over 94,000 and growing.

So far in our region we have been somewhat protected and have noted a controlled rate of disease. Our health care system has been proactive and is ready for any potential surge. Although there is no crystal ball to predict what might happen in the next six to 12 months, we need to be able to exercise some control over the future by being careful and thoughtful about what we do, always remembering that the virus has an independent life of its own. So, until we have a vaccine, we are sort of on our own to do the right thing, which is to follow the guidance and advice of healthcare experts. At this time a reopening of our area has been announced. Phase 1 has begun which means the gradual opening of certain jobs. If this works out well, then on to Phase 2, etc. The return to paid employment will be a life saver for so many who have not been working and may have lost health insurance.

We must realize however that where we find ourselves now is definitely not because the virus has slipped away, but rather that our area has things “under control” for the time being, and with measured and careful steps we can continue our reopening. We will most likely continue to have new cases, maybe many cases if people are too eager to get to what they consider their normal.

The concerns and worries about COVID will not go away with the permission to reopen, that is for sure. In this light, it really will be important to continue to practice frequent hand washing and social distancing. We must not congregate in large groups, knowing that current guidelines state no more than 10 people. We must continue to wear masks and protect those most at-risk. As the CDC has recommended and continues to recommend, everyone should wear a cloth face covering when out in public, especially if unable to maintain a six-foot distance. These strategies will be very tough to sustain, but really are essential for keeping the virus at bay and limiting the disease and the risk of death associated with it! At least we can say that we know what we need to do, and if it’s not done, we as a community will all be let down. In the meantime we must continue these measures until a safe and effective vaccine and treatment are available.

Resilience and patience are really what we are going to need in the months ahead. This will be very hard to do. We are used to quick solutions, a fast pace, and a way of life that tends to demand quick action, similar to quickly switching television channels. This tendency towards immediate gratification is hard to reconcile with the need for patience throughout this pandemic. So, we need to strive towards a new way of coping to help with balancing emotions and increasing our capacity to weather the storm. Willpower and an active focus on weathering a pandemic that lasts for this long and longer really requires a lot of flexibility and resolve. Adaptation to the new reality of the virus and its dangers are what we have to strive for.

Various strategies for coping include trying to eat a healthy diet, not smoking, controlling drinking, exercising, including walking outside especially in the sun (Vitamin D), getting enough sleep, and practicing mind-calming techniques such as controlled breathing exercises, yoga, and even meditating. If you are new to these methods, there are likely YouTube programs to watch and lead you through them. For many, a spiritual connection or reconnection is a good strategy. So, our return to what we considered normal, will likely take significant time.

Interestingly, many have discovered that perhaps that the earlier “normal” state is not really the norm they want and have begun a period of reflection to define what is really important. Many have reordered their priorities. Doing this as individuals, families, communities and the country as a whole could be a potential benefit of the pandemic, a pandemic we didn’t want, but maybe can gain insight! In the meantime, wear a mask! If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, a thorough resource guide can be found at uwayscc.org/covid-19-get-help.

The Chautauqua Health Network Medical Leadership Working Group includes Wolf-Dieter Krahn M.D.; Robert Berke M.D.; G. Jay Bishop M.D., FACP, FSVM, RPVI; Patrick Collins M.D.; Lynn M. Dunham M.D FAAP; William A. Geary M.D. Ph.D.; Tariq Khan, M.D., FAAP; Elizabeth (Betsy) Kidder M.D., Ph.D, MPH, FACP; John LaMancuso M.D. FACP; Tat-Sum Lee M.D., FACP, FACEP; Lillian Vitanza Ney M. D. FACP, FACC; James M. Sherry M.D., Ph.D.; and James E. Wild M.D., FAAFP.

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