Rethinking Daily Life in a COVID-19 Era

This is Part 3 in my series with Dr. Phil Pearson on COVID-19. Dr. Pearson has practiced medicine for 39 years. He is an elder at Broadmoor Baptist, and he and his wife are well-respected members of our local community. For many years, Dr. Pearson also taught conceal-carry classes in our area.

Governor Tate Reeves announced today that Mississippi will extend the current shelter-in-place orders until April 27.

 As Mississippians begin to consider returning to normal routines in a COVID-19 era, families and individuals are re-thinking some everyday practices.

“When shelter-in-place orders are over, COVID will still be in communities and will still be contagious to many,” Dr. Pearson said.

Our current COVID-19 era will continue until medical experts develop effective means of testing, treating, and preventing COVID-19.  Current research is focused on tests that could be as accessible as home pregnancy tests, treatment that prevents death and permanent damage, and vaccines. Until then, here’s some practices we need to think differently about.

Key changes in a COVID-19 era

Leaving home

Gathering with friends and family

Even the introverts among us are ready to return to social activities. It’s important not to let your guard down when you visit with family and friends.

Dr. Kumi Smith, an assistant professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota, said, “There’s a misconception that the coronavirus comes from people that you don’t know. We have a tendency to relax our guard with people we’re most familiar with.”

Dr. Smith pointed out that many transmissions are taking place outside of the home when visiting with family and friends. However, we can mitigate those risks with recommended precautions.

“Wearing masks can also give people a false sense of security,” Dr. Smith said. “Even if you’re wearing a mask, you should still keep your distance from others and avoid touching your face, as normal.”

“Socially distant encounters with close friends are awkward,” Dr. Smith said. “But that’s what this takes and that’s what this needs to look like.”

Visiting the Vulnerable

Many of us are anxious to visit our loved ones who are over 65 or who have underlying health issues. But we are also worried about giving them the virus.

“If you have any suspicious symptoms, please do not visit at-risk persons,” Dr. Pearson said. “Individuals still need to wear a mask. Also, you should either wear new gloves or wash hands before touching a loved one in an at-risk group.”

When possible, visit outside so that you do not risk contaminating frequently touched surfaces in the home.

Shaking hands

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to change behaviors. One example has been the need to alter how we greet each other. Since hands tend to carry a lot of germs, many medical experts agree that the common handshake needs to be dropped.

Dr. Gregory Poland, an infectious diseases expert and director at the Mayo Clinic, has been talking about the need to stop shaking hands for 20 years. 

“The whole idea of extending your right hand derives from mid-evil times when you showed that by extending your right hand, you were not harboring a weapon,” Dr. Poland explains. “The reality of it is, in modern times, you may well be harboring a bio-weapon, so to speak. I think there are much safer and culturally appropriate ways to indicate a greeting.”

Going to the doctor

Don’t assume that all doctors are taking proper precautions in their clinics. Last week, a loved one had an appointment with a surgeon. When the doctor came in the examining room, he was not wearing a mask or gloves. He approached her with his hand extended for a handshake.

Call ahead to find out what protocol the office is practicing to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19. To a certain degree you can mitigate the lack of proper protocol by wearing gloves and a mask.

Dr. Pearson said, “Wear your own mask when out of the home as recommended by CDC. Gloves are appropriate if you will be touching surfaces, items and people or, you can practice good hand washing or disinfectant techniques.”

Getting Gas

Many tasks that were once simple now require extra care. One of those is getting gas.

Dr. Abinash Virk, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician, explains, “You can pretty much assume that the gas pump nozzle is contaminated.”

“So what are your options when you’re pumping gas?” asks Dr. Virk. “You can either wear gloves and throw your gloves away, or you can basically just touch the handle, put your gas in and immediately use alcohol hand gel or wash your hands with soap and water.”

Back inside the home

Decontaminate when you return home

When returning home, individuals need to be aware that they may be bringing the virus in with them. As soon as you come in the door, wash your hands, clean your phone, and disinfect anything else you bring in. Then shower and immediately wash the clothes you were wearing.

Recent news reports have focused on the virus’s ability to be carried on the soles of shoes.

“Yes, certainly disinfecting the doormat or threshold is appropriate,” Dr. Pearson said, “Medically we wear shoe covers while working with potential COVID patients, but I do not think that you should be overly concerned with transmission through that avenue.”

Disinfect the home daily

COVID-19 experts hope that daily disinfecting commonly touched surfaces in the home is now a regular routine in households across the country.

“Even if no one in the home is at high risk from the infection, I recommend following CDC guidance for disinfecting the home as well as items brought into the home,” Dr. Pearson said. “A significant number of infected individuals will have little or no symptoms and may be at the places that you have just visited. You might be one of those people. You might bring the virus home and then transmit it to someone or leave it on fomites to be transmitted to others.”

Many adults under 65 do not think daily disinfecting routines are necessary for their homes. Dr. Pearson points out that statistics tell a slightly different story.

“In three hotbeds of COVID infection—New York City, Detroit, Michigan and New Orleans, Louisiana—almost 30% of COVID deaths were in people less than 65 years old.”

He points out that the majority had underlying health conditions but adds, “In New York City the chance of dying from COVID was 1.8% for healthy individuals with no underlying health conditions who were less than 65 years old.”

Educate Yourself

In the short time that COVID-19 has been a threat to Americans, policies have changed to match research that is slowly unraveling the mysteries of the virus. As a result, confusion abounds. Dr. Pearson recommends several links to stay up-to-date on the latest scientific information, which include the CDC website dedicated to the coronavirus, this family medicine news site, and NIH.

One example of confusion is wearing masks.

“The surgical masks that you see commonly worn are not filtering any COVID viral particles out of the air, rather the mask keeps the range of respiration or cough or sneeze to a shorter distance,” Dr. Pearson explained. “The more effective N95 mask requires a complete seal around the face and it is designed to filter 95% of particles sized 0.3 microns or greater. COVID is usually 0.1 micron in size.”

That means wearing a mask doesn’t protect the one with the mask on. Rather a mask helps the one wearing it contain the virus to their immediate area when they breathe or sneeze. Individuals in a high-risk group need to keep this in mind.

Limit your news intake

At the same time, be careful that you don’t consume too much news.

Dr. Craig Sawchuk, a Mayo Clinic psychologist, said, “It’s important, whether we are on social media or regular media channels, that we establish some limits.”

Dr. Sawchuk recommends people spend about 15 to 30 minutes, once or twice a day, catching up on the news. “That can usually help get you to a point where you feel informed enough, but not too informed where it can induce more stress and anxiety.”

Beware of premature conclusions circulating as fact

Dr. Pearson warns that it’s too soon to have clarity about many issues surrounding COVID-19. However, many news sources circulate findings that sound official.

For example, early reports indicated that people with blood type A suffered worse symptoms. Dr. Pearson said that idea was based on anecdotal information from China, not peer-reviewed medical studies.

Another rumor that circulated in news stories said ibuprofen worsened COVID-19 symptoms.

“Ibuprofen is still recommended for treatment of fever in COVID disease. Those news stories and its source were not accurate,” Dr. Pearson said. “Other news stories about avoiding certain anti-hypertensive medicines were also in error. In fact, those anti-hypertensive medicines are being studied as a possible protection from damage from COVID.”

Stay flexible in your thinking

It was only five months ago that COVID-19 made its entrance into the world of humans. So much is unknown about the disease and why some individuals get it and others don’t. As scientists learn more, public policy is likely to change. Stay flexible and be patient.

Dr. Stacey Rizza, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic, says it’s important to stay up-to-date on current recommendations as well as to diligently to follow current guidelines.

“Sometimes we may feel like recommendations are changing quickly, and that is not to decrease faith in the system,” Dr. Rizza said. “It’s simply that we get more data almost daily, and, so, recommendations do change frequently. Please stay diligent and follow what the latest recommendations are, and then also be patient.”

Also, as shelter-in-place orders are lifted, it’s likely that certain areas will experience a widespread outbreak. Prepare yourself in case shelter-in-place orders are needed periodically in the next two years.

I’m praying that over the next few weeks scientists will unlock more mysteries surrounding the germs that cause COVID-19 and that we will be able to simplify our approach to fighting this virus.

My next post will likely discuss how our immune system works in a COVID-19 era and how we can best fortify it. Do you have any specific questions you would like to see addressed in that article?

Or do you have questions about this post that you would like answered?

Please post your comments or questions below.

And stay safe out there, y’all.  

Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice. Please follow the advice of a knowledgeable family doctor and guidance from the CDC.gov.

Also, my desire is to responsibly report about top concerns surrounding COVID-19 by interviewing a trusted source. For in-depth journalism from a Biblical perspective, I highly recommend World Magazine.

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