By: Dr. Matthew Surburg
Now comes the hard part.
The past few weeks have seen changes nobody could have predicted six months ago. Schools closed, college students arrived home, businesses temporarily shut down or transitioned to online only enterprises, sporting events (and even entire seasons) were cancelled; the pace of change has been so fast that it’s hard to keep up.
The necessity of social distancing has prompted numerous other changes, as well. I prefer to think of it as “physical distancing,” since our need for social contact is as great as ever, and it’s really the physical distance that is so important.
On the one hand, families with fewer activities are finding more opportunities to spend time together. Streaming technology has allowed people to see loved ones they might not have otherwise seen.
However, those who lack either the social connections or access to the technology are finding the lack of outside interaction to be a source of crushing loneliness. Many community groups (including churches and Healthy 365) are reaching out to people who are isolated to help them not feel so alone, but the new circumstances are a source of tremendous hardship for many.
Thus far, people have generally been understanding and accepting of the many changes. This is, in part, because of the newness of everything. That is likely to change. It’s hard to maintain the vigilance which the response to COVID-19 has required—and will continue to require. People get lonely or bored. The novelty wears off.
This is exactly when the discipline to maintain hygiene becomes most important. Cases of COVID-19 continue to increase worldwide, in the United States, and here in Indiana – although the rate has shown signs of beginning to slow a little. Unfortunately, we are still learning about how it spreads, and what we are learning isn’t encouraging. Treatment options are experimental at best, and even after they are developed and proven successful, they won’t be widely available for some time.
Feeling healthy isn’t much protection. A person can be infected and have only mild symptoms, but still be contagious. The time from exposure to onset of symptoms varies, but it seems to be in the neighborhood of 5-7 days and can be as long as two weeks. In other words, it’s disturbingly easy for someone to spread the virus without even knowing they have it. You may be fine, but the next person may wind up in the hospital with respiratory distress.
What can you do? First and foremost: Avoid spreading the illness. Since we can’t know who has the virus and who doesn’t, everyone has to act like they could potentially be a carrier. Wash your hands frequently, especially after you cough, sneeze, or touch your face. Clean and disinfect surfaces – including doorknobs – in your home. Above all, avoid going out in public if at all possible, and when you must go out, maintain physical distance from others.
The first phase of this battle is still underway, but now is the time to form habits which will help protect ourselves and others around us. Forming habits is hard work. It requires deliberate, conscious effort. It’s not fun or easy. It’s going to take a while, but it’s got to be done.
Because now, we’re all the front line.
Dr. Matthew Surburg is a family medicine doctor at Hancock Family Medicine in Greenfield. Contact him at 317-462-2335.