The entire country has spent the better part of the last month practicing social distancing due to the Coronavirus. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz has extended the “Stay at Home” order through May 4. Early numbers indicate that these measures have helped to “Flatten the Curve.”
While it is encouraging to see data that reflects progress in the fight against the Coronavirus, it is still vitally important to continue with these mitigation measures. That means limiting exposure to anyone outside of the immediate household. It also means more time out of the comfort zone, which can have both a physical and mental effect. This week, our experts discussed the continued importance of social distancing in addition to providing tips to adjust to stressful and uncertain times.
Q: Am I allowed to visit friends and family?
Ben Hess, M.D., stresses the importance of staying at home and practicing social distancing. This includes both in the health care setting and in the community.
Dr. Hess: First, Tri-County Health Care is restricting visitors to reduce the traffic throughout our buildings. Even though we do not have any COVID-19 positive patients at this time, we are still operating like it is present in our communities. Anyone coming into the building who doesn’t need to be there has the potential to walk away and spread the virus despite the protective measures we have in place. The virus can hide on all types of surfaces and you never know where you can pick it up.
As for visiting friends and family outside of a health care facility, I would strongly advise against it. Social distancing should be practiced with anyone who is not living in your current household. There are some exceptions, like having children in daycare, but just visiting family, friends or neighbors is a dangerous thing to do as it can spread the virus throughout the community. Even if you are not worried about your own health, you don’t know how many people you may inadvertently infect.
Q: How does Coronavirus compare to other contagious diseases from the past?
Tri-County Health Care has a provider on staff with firsthand experience battling a contagious disease. Alfredmy Chessor, M.D., treated patients in Africa during the Ebola epidemic in 2014-15. She explains another reason why it is vital to practice social distancing to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
Dr. Chessor: With Ebola, it was very obvious when the patient was ill and deathly sick. This made it was easier to distance and protect yourself with the proper equipment. With Coronavirus, there are people who have the virus but show no symptoms. These are the ones spreading the virus without even knowing it. When we talk about social distancing and work toward flattening the curve, we are trying to minimize the risk of spreading the Coronavirus to people who are more susceptible. An individual may show no signs or symptoms, but even in a mild symptom state, they are highly contagious to those around them.
Q: What are some tips to manage mental health and make it through these stressful and uncertain times?
Aaron Larson, M.D., sees patients in Behavioral Health Services and knows it is a stressful time for many people. People are thrown out of rhythm and are isolated at home and not able to visit friends and family. It can be hard to cope and make necessary adjustments, but there are tips to maintain a positive mindset.
Dr. Larson: We are bombarded with information, suggestions, rules and different ways of doing things while also fearing for our health and the health of our families, friends and communities. Here are a few points to keep in mind when adjusting to this new abnormal.
Emotions can range from fear, anger, denial, acting out or further isolation beyond social distancing. Be on guard against the overwhelming nature of these emotions. It’s okay to be frustrated, angry and scared, but don’t get stuck there. Not paying attention to these emotions and reactions can lead to maladaptive behaviors such as substance abuse, or self-medication to stay awake or to calm down.
We see a constant stream of information from many sources – national, world or local. I suggest relying on local information. Read or listen to it once or twice a day, get what you need and let it go. The 24-hour news cycle is only going to increase anxiety and you can get caught up in a cycle that is constantly changing.
The local health care experts know what is going on. When the information is received, be acceptable to the change it may bring. It may seem negative at the time but don’t get hung up on it.
We are trying to adapt to a new normal and our brains are learning how to do this. It is important to stay connected to people. Call, video chat or connect with a friend through social media. It’s important to connect with elderly relatives and let them know you love them and care about them. They may be more isolated.
Make sure to take care of your physical health. Get outside and take care of yard work or finish that house project you have been waiting to complete. Remember to take your regular medications and have an adequate supply. Taking care of your physical health will leave you in the best condition to fight off the virus if you do get it. Remember to stay safe and don’t do anything that will require a trip to the emergency room. It may be overburdened due to the virus.
Q: What can I do if I want to see a provider for a minor illness but don’t want to risk being exposed to the Coronavirus by leaving the house?
A: Patients have the option to seek care online through the TCHC eClinic where providers can virtually diagnose, recommend treatment and prescribe medication. (Our eClinic also offers FREE Coronavirus screening)