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COVID-19, Social Distancing, and You

close up of hands being washedCoronavirus (SARS Cov-2) is the virus responsible for causing the disease COVID-19.  We are all connected and are experiencing this virus as an international pandemic. At the writing of this, March 15, 2020, there are no reported known active cases of COVID-19 in Franklin County. In fact, rural areas will be exposed at a different rate than our more urban neighbors and as the pandemic emerges across our nation. Our responses and resources will require us to depend on our local community hospitals, agencies, and one another.  

What We Know. While knowledge about the coronavirus is emerging, still there is much to learn. What we do know that is important, is that it is highly contagious, spread by respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing) and contact (including surfaces we touch). Symptoms of this virus range from very little or no symptoms to mild, moderate, and severe respiratory manifestations. This range of worsening symptoms is associated with older age and underlying states of poorer health. The Centers of Disease Control (March 2020), currently estimate mortality rates that range significantly from 0.2% among persons age 40 and younger to upwards of 8% among people age 80 and over.

It is important to recognize that most people are surviving COVID-19 and need their supports in place.

Supporting Health in Place. It is important to recognize that most people are surviving COVID-19 and need their supports in place. These supports include the basics of food, hydration, rest, medications, and time to recover. Stock up on supplies. If you are sick, call (do not visit) your local primary care provider or health care facility. For all of us, social distancing, basic hand hygiene, basic infectious disease precautions (covering our coughs and sneezes, washing surfaces), and supporting our ongoing health (nutrition, sleep, social support, adherence to prescription medications, and self-monitoring of health) are vital. 

It Takes Time. Researchers, Baum & Sa, as reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine (March 10, 2020), are now learning more about the average time from contact with the coronavirus to sickness. For the vast majority of persons, the time between reporting symptoms from the original contact is 14 days. This estimated time frame is the basis for our current public health recommendations to limit in-person social contact. The goal is to slow down the curve or rapid expression of the virus in too many people at one time.  

Social Distancing is a Key Step. Social distancing helps keep the number of cases of infected people manageable for health care providers and hospitals to provide care.* This is everyone’s responsibility. According to the Gerontological Society of America’s National Adult Vaccine Program, social distancing is a public health term that describes actions to stop or slow the spread of contagious diseases like COVID-19. This is done by avoiding places where you may come into direct contact with other people, germs in the air, or contaminated surfaces. In supporting the importance of social distancing, state officials have insisted that spaces and places of close personal contact (schools, conferences, congregate meals, religious spaces of worship) all close or cease from in-person work in favor of online connection when and if possible. 

Challenges in Close Caregiving. Some of us will also require and need ongoing contact with caregivers. This is not a time to distance from those human beings we depend on, nor is it a time to avoid those that may need us if they become sick. In cases where contact is needed to deliver care, the same precautions are important (diligent handwashing, cleaning and disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces, and having an alternative caregiver if one is actively symptomatic: feeling ill, flu-like symptoms, dry cough, fever).

Getting Sick.  If you or someone you know is sick and needs to go to the emergency department, call first for instructions and guidance. If you have respiratory illness symptoms, avoid contact with others and call your healthcare provider. If you must go out, wear a mask. If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you will be asked to self-quarantine in your home.

Coping with Anxiety. Finally, this is a time of increased public anxiety, stress, and panic in response to a continuous news feed that is of deep concern to all of us.  While these messages help us take precautions and support readiness, they increase our stress. It is important to monitor your response to this stress and the responses of those close to you. If the stress of COVID-19 and social isolation are getting to you, seek care and connection. Watch for symptoms of uncertainty, frustration, loneliness, anger, boredom, or a desire to use alcohol or drugs. Talk about your feelings to those close to you. Reach out by telephone to check in on one another and discuss your feelings, responses, and needs. You may need access to, or increased professional help at this time. Social distancing does not mean losing all social connection. Recognize that many people are stressed and may show different coping responses, including appearing distracted and having a difficult time with sleep, concentration, and coping. Be patient with one another. Reaching out (by telephone) to a professional mental health provider and/or to people you are close to is the safest way.  Recognize at this time our care for one another is necessary.

*Our hospitals, emergency departments, and Intensive Care Units need to be focused on the care of those who get more severe cases and require acute respiratory support.  If you or someone you know develops severe illness, acute hospital care is necessary and calling is the first step to appropriate care!