For many of us, the Coronavirus pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. The physical risks of contracting COVID-19 are worrisome enough—but many of us are also coping with the mental and emotional side effects of a worldwide pandemic, including stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.
However, there are reasons to stay positive and proactive: by actively looking out for ourselves, our family members, and our community at large, we can all help lessen the impact of Coronavirus. Here are some steps you can take as a parent, health care worker, friend, or neighbor.
“How do I talk to my child about Coronavirus?”
This question has been on many parents’ minds over the last month. As schools close for the remainder of the academic year, and activities like youth sports are put on hold, many children have questions about the pandemic. How can you encourage your children to stay safe without creating unnecessary anxiety?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends asking age-appropriate questions of kids, depending on their level of emotional and intellectual maturity. For middle schoolers, ask, “Are your friends talking about coronavirus? What are they saying?” For younger children, broach the topic by asking, “Have you heard grownups talking about people getting sick?” The CDC recommends following your child’s lead. If they don’t want to talk about it or seem uninterested in the subject, don’t press it.
Health experts recommend you be reassuring, yet truthful. It’s okay to tell them that kids aren’t as vulnerable to the virus as adults, especially the elderly. Tell them that upwards of 95 percent of people with Coronavirus recover without complications, but a small number will become very ill and require hospitalization. Reassure them that doctors and nurses are doing the best they can to treat Coronavirus patients, and scientists and researchers are exploring new treatments to help people recover more easily.
Many children will worry more about their older relatives than about themselves, the CDC says. Help assuage their fears by letting them Skype or FaceTime with grandparents or other family members, and remind them that your whole family—including older loved ones—are following Coronavirus protocol by staying at home, avoiding groups of ten or more, and practicing healthy hand hygiene. Tell kids it’s normal and healthy to feel stressed, but that too much worrying can make the problem worse. Depending on your children’s age, limit their exposure to distressing news stories.
For health care workers
The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially stressful for health care workers, who face increased odds of contracting the virus as they help others to heal. Personal protection equipment (PPE) is essential for health care workers who might be exposed to Coronavirus, and such workers have a right to insist on adequate protection. The CDC recommends that all health care workers use a gown, gloves, and an N95 mask, as well as a face shield or goggles. If N95 masks are unavailable, medical masks can offer adequate protection as long as they’re applied to both the health care worker and the patient.
All health care facilities should follow proper COVID-19 protocol, which includes rapid triage of suspected Coronavirus patients. Patients showing symptoms of the illness should be isolated in a well-ventilated area, away from other patients. The health care facility should also be sanitizing commonly touched surfaces—including computer keyboards, countertops, escalator railings, door handles, and light switches.
Health care workers can help keep their own families safe by self-isolating within their homes. Use separate bedrooms and bathrooms if possible, and always remove and wash work clothing upon arriving home.
The CDC emphasizes that it is essential for health care workers to get adequate sleep and feel supported and well-informed by the leadership at their facility. If a health care facility is not following Coronavirus protocol in terms of sanitary practices or while handling patients, health care workers should report the facility to local health authorities.
For concerned relatives and friends
Many Americans are concerned about their elderly relatives and other vulnerable individuals during this crisis. What are the best ways to help people in our lives who have heightened vulnerability to Coronavirus?
If you must visit your elderly or immunocompromised loved ones, make sure to maintain a safe distance of at least three feet, preferably six. Practice cough etiquette by sneezing or coughing into a tissue or the crook of your elbow, and wash your hands thoroughly, before and after the visit.
You might be asked to shop for groceries or other supplies for a vulnerable relative. Public health experts recommend that you follow proper hygiene protocol before and after shopping. Afterward, it’s best to leave packages on the front doorstep instead of entering your relative’s home. An even better option is helping your loved one to order groceries and other necessities online and having them delivered. This reduces the chances that both you and your family members will be exposed to the virus.
It is also important to create an emergency plan for your elderly relative in the event you cannot care for them on your own. This includes creating a list of all medications your loved one takes, as well as emergency contact numbers for people who can step in to help.
As hard as it is, the best way to support vulnerable loved ones during this time may be to not have face-to-face contact with them. Because elderly and immunocompromised people are exponentially more likely to experience severe complications from the COVID-19, many assisted-living facilities and nursing homes have closed their doors to visitors. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch via video conferencing—using apps like Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom—as well as phone, e-mail, or letter. While face-to-face visiting could be dangerous at this time, there’s nothing stopping you from communicating as often as you like via other mediums!