If you are like me, you are being bombarded with information from every corner about the coronavirus, which is also referred to as COVID-19.
I wanted to take the opportunity to summarize some important points so they don’t get lost in the cacophony.
First, to be clear, we are in the middle of a worldwide outbreak of a viral infection for which there is no previous human exposure or immunity. There is community spread in many locations. The vast majority of those who get infected have mild illness, but serious illness appears more common than seasonal influenza and seems to particularly affect older people and those with chronic health conditions.
The priority measures to prevent individual infection include frequent handwashing, avoidance of touching the face and limiting exposure to people who are infected.
At this time, there is no vaccine for the virus, and treatments are limited to supportive care.
It is likely that this epidemic will be of extended duration, but we will get past it. In the current stage of the response, locations with community spread are advising physical-distancing measures (some call this social distancing) to substantially reduce person-to-person spread and allow us to return to a baseline of limited infections. Properly practiced, this may take six to eight weeks. In the next stage, it should be possible to test individuals who become ill, trace their contacts and limit wider spread. This should buy time until an effective vaccine can hopefully be developed, manufactured and distributed to end the epidemic. Current estimates for that are 12 to 18 months.
This is a challenging time for our mental health and sense of well-being. The epidemic itself can provoke anxiety, especially because of fear of the unknown. Meanwhile, social distancing can lead to both feelings of and actual isolation. In normal times, we know that this is associated with sadness, depression and a host of poorer health outcomes.
While we may need to practice physical distancing, we don’t have to be socially isolated. Modern technology permits many to interact using digital media. Less modern technology, such as the telephone, allows us to connect as well. Now may be the time to schedule phone conversations with one another, including elderly family members or neighbors who live alone.
Our social cohort, made up of those with whom we live, also offers opportunity for connection. With kids home from school and many parents either teleworking or on extended leave, it may be time to re-establish family meal routines, family game night or a family walk.
Getting outside is, in fact, advisable for most. Provided that it is combined with proper personal hygiene and physical distance, outdoor activities such as a walk or hike can have many physical and mental health benefits.
Above all, let’s all remember to take care of ourselves and one another. As a community and as a nation, we will get through this together.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.