Blog | Monday, June 8, 2020

COVID-19 fatigue, the good and the bad


We have entered a new phase of the global COVID-19 pandemic. After nine weeks of shut-down in some areas, 24-hour-a-day news, and our lives completely disrupted, many are entering into a phase of COVID-19 fatigue.

The adrenaline rush that has sustained front-line caregivers is starting to wane and the grind of wearing uncomfortable PPE and seeing the virus described as a hoax makes crawling out of bed an effort. Essential service people like food supply chain (farmers, pickers, packagers, processors, transporters, stockers, and grocery clerks) have been doing double duty, caring for children, managing their own lives as well as going to work every day with fear. And this includes police, firefighters, sanitation workers, food prep, cleaners, your local cable guy and everyone working from home too. COVID-19 fatigue is part depression, part anxiety, part fear with a hint of hopelessness thrown in.

”Will this ever end? Will I have a job? Will I be homeless? Should I close my business? Will I get an education? Will I ever see grandma again?” Unanswered questions cause overwhelming fatigue.

The current state will end. These questions will be answered and some pieces of normal will return. But this crisis has changed us forever and since we are in the middle of it, we cannot know exactly how. Here are a few ways I believe we will be changed and they are all good:

We won’t go to work or school sick any more. There isn’t a doctor I know that doesn’t go to work sick as a dog and see patients when they should be home resting. Because of our lack of national sick leave policy, many people work sick. This will change and it’s high time. And we need to push for employee rights immediately so people have paid sick leave. As voters, we must insist upon this.

A light is shined on the need for universal health coverage. The government is patching holes now by covering COVID-19 testing (although the details are murky and providers aren’t sure they will be paid). What about COVID-19 treatment? What about the vaccine and the other health problems that lead to a worse outcome with COVID infection? We can no longer ignore the health disparity and need for healthcare for all. As voters, we must insist upon this.

We should no longer ignore the funding of public health. In other more enlightened countries, public health infrastructure was available to stop the virus spread with less disruption than the U.S. Our scientific and protective government agencies are needed. Period. End of discussion.

People are learning to cook at home again. This is a healthy trend and could lead to more home vegetable gardens, less CRAP diets (Calorie-Rich and Processed) and a focus upon nutrition. COVID-19 is especially cruel to people who are overweight, have hypertension, diabetes, and liver disease. All of these co-morbid conditions can be prevented or improved with diet. The more we learn to home cook, the better control we have with what we eat. And we need a national focus on communities with “food deserts” i.e.: no fresh grocery stores. As voters, we must insist upon this.

The air is clean. For people who have known nothing but smog and grey sky and polluted waterways, seeing what is possible and enjoying fresh air should make us demand change. We know how to avoid pollution. Do we have the will to continue it?

Animal shelters are empty. Could this be the end of puppy mills? People taking time to care for pets is a win-win for the animals and our emotional health.

There are many more benefits and lessons learned. Think of others. The universe is giving us messages and though the learning is painful, we need to listen.

This post originally appeared at Everything Health. Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, is an ACP Internist editorial board member who blogs at EverythingHealth, designed to address the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st Century.