A commonsense checklist for the pandemic
We’ve been living with COVID-19 for nine months now, and we have more information about how best to prepare our homes for a worst-case scenario. Here’s a handy checklist as we head into Southern Nevada’s colder months.
Take inventory of your medicine cabinet. Look for expired medications, and toss them out. Be sure to have a fresh supply of the following: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, decongestant, cough syrup, cough drops, saline nasal rinse, anti-diarrheal medication, electrolyte solution and a reliable thermometer. For prescription medications, always make sure to have at least two weeks’ supply on hand.
Get a flu shot, widely available now at your doctor’s office, pharmacies and big-box stores like Target. Influenza and COVID-19 are both respiratory viruses, and while the flu vaccination isn’t 100 percent effective, it does offer some protection against secondary symptoms. More importantly, more people getting the flu shot reduces the number of flu-related hospital visits, allowing health care providers to use resources on coronavirus patients.
Have enough masks for a week’s use, whether you use cloth or disposable types. Keep clean ones in the car, by the front door and in your bag. Cloth masks should be washed frequently.
Stock alcohol-based sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol. Most stores have sanitizers on shelves now, but there’s no need to hoard: A bottle in the car and one at home will do, plus an extra or two.
Print out important phone numbers, like those for the nearest hospital and urgent care center, doctors and telehealth providers, along with neighbors and friends you can call in case you get sick.
Perform a fridge and pantry inventory. You undoubtedly learned a lot from your shopping habits in the spring. Keep two weeks’ worth of shelf-stable foods in the pantry and about the same amount of fresh produce in the fridge. Print out a list of grocery essentials and tape it on the fridge, in case you get sick and need someone to pick up groceries for you.
Be realistic about paper products. There’s no need to stock up on a year’s worth of toilet paper, paper towels and tissues. Have enough for two weeks to a month. Hoarding causes unnecessary shortages and disrupts the supply chain.
Stay up to date on doctor and dentist visits.
As COVID-19 cases continue rising, ‘Be more vigilant,’ says local health expert
We knew this was going to be a terrible winter, when we looked to history as a guide. The pandemic of 1918, which first appeared in March of that year, took a turn for the worse during its second wave and crested in the cold months. That October, nearly 200,000 Americans died.
Still, it’s stunning to see the numbers we’re facing now. In November alone, new U.S. cases of COVID-19 surpassed 4 million. Nearly every state is trending in the wrong direction, including ours. During a November 22 press conference, Gov. Steve Sisolak urged Nevadans to be even more vigilant; short of a lockdown, he imposed stricter restrictions on businesses and group gatherings.
The whole country is experiencing pandemic fatigue, yet the coronavirus is nowhere near done with us. As of December 1, the positivity rate in Nevada was 17.6%; in April, it was 14.7%, an alarming number then, just one month into the pandemic. (The World Health Organization recommends a 5% or lower test positivity rate.)
“I gave up predicting COVID a long time ago; it kind of does what it wants to do,” says Dr. Joe Corcoran, Division Chief Medical Officer for HCA Healthcare. “We have seen a distinct third wave form up over the last [few] weeks. And when you look at the slope of the acceleration in the number of inpatient cases, it’s startling in some communities.”
Doctors have learned quite a lot about the virus during the past nine months, including treatment protocols for the most serious cases, but older patients and those with comorbid (or co-occurring) health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and pulmonary diseases remain the most at risk for hospitalization.
There has been promising news on several vaccines, but those are months away from being deployed to the general population. In the nearer term, however, Corcoran does see one positive development.
“The incidence of the flu virus is way, way, way down, compared to years past,” he says. “And I do think that is a reflection of social distancing, of hand-washing, of wearing masks when you can’t socially distance. So I do think that the general hygiene uptick that we have managed over the last several months will help us decrease our risk of flu. It’s always been everybody’s fear, coronavirus and flu together. But fortunately, the way that you avoid one is the way that you avoid the other.”
Still, Corcoran encourages people to redouble their efforts in practicing good hygiene, observing social distancing and wearing masks—the three things that significantly flattened the coronavirus curve in the spring and early summer.
“Unfortunately, I see people wash their hands, but they’re not washing their hands for the full amount of time—20 seconds, [like] they washed their hands back in March when this was novel and new. So to do a good therapeutic hand-wash, you should be singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. So as we go into the colder months, and as the risk increases, as the case volumes increase, what I would encourage is to be more vigilant,” Corcoran says.
“We just have to practice it as if it’s really meaningful, because the numbers are climbing so fast, it is meaningful again.”
Keeping tabs on our mental health
Back in the spring, when the coronavirus was beginning to take a measurable toll on this country, most people’s primary concerns were economic insecurity and staying physically healthy. But a mental health impact was also starting to be felt. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “more than four in 10 adults overall (45%) feel that worry and stress related to coronavirus has had a negative impact on their mental health.”
Now, with cases rising and still no unified federal response to stem the pandemic, uncertainty and anxiety loom in the minds of many Americans. Add to that a case of pandemic fatigue—everyone is sick of Zoom meetings by now, and social distancing grows even more challenging with the holidays looming—and our mental health will be challenged by a confluence of stressors.
So how do we take care of our mental health—our psychological, emotional and social well-being—during a time of overwhelming uncertainty? Merlelynn Harris, clinical director for Bridge Counseling Associates, the oldest nonprofit providing individual and family counseling in Southern Nevada, says it begins by simply valuing ourselves.
“Too often, we’re running around and caretaking and doing all that we can,” Harris says. “And we are often our own worst critic. So treating ourselves with kindness and respect and being aware of self-criticism. … We need to give ourselves a little bit of bandwidth to decompress and to give some grace and patience for ourselves.”
To care for ourselves mentally, we need to give ourselves permission to be aware of our emotions. And that time-worn advice of “just think positively” might not be as helpful as we think during a year that has been relentless in its battering of all aspects of our lives and our society.
“That has a huge impact on our emotional and psychological well-being and how we manage stress,” Harris says. “When we talk about mental health and staying positive, that doesn’t mean that we never feel a negative emotion or that bad things don’t happen. It’s how we regulate our emotions. … We need to feel them, so that we can move through them and not let those emotions take over.”
Having people to whom we feel safe expressing these feelings is the second part of the equation, since connecting with others is key in finding purpose and meaning, Harris says. A pandemic can lend some perspective in how we can cope. That mantra early on in the pandemic that “we’re all in this together” really can serve as a lifeline when we’re at our lowest point emotionally.
“[There’s] no one in our society or in our community who is not impacted by this,” Harris says. “If anything, there’s a kindred support in that. I’m going through it. The checker at the supermarket, the checkout person at Dairy Queen, we’re all going through it. Extending kindness … and compassion to others is equally helpful at a time like this.”
Proper nutrition makes a difference
Along with social distancing and wearing a mask, one of the best ways to take care of yourself during the pandemic is to keep your immune system in top shape. Proper nutrition is key, along with regular exercise and ample sleep. With the weather cooling off, it’s a good time to think about healthy, comforting meals to make at home.
To start, go through your pantry and assess what you have. If you stocked up on things in the spring that you won’t ever eat, donate those items to a local food bank. Then make a meal plan for a week, focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, with moderate consumption of fish, dairy and poultry. Try a couple of meatless nights a week—it will save you money and improve your health, and you’ll be doing something good for the planet.
The best way to pack in vegetables? Make a big batch of soup—freeze half and eat the rest throughout the week. To get your fruit servings in, make a morning smoothie and throw in several kinds. Frozen fruits and vegetables pack just as much nutrition as fresh ones, so clear space in your freezer. For fresh seasonal produce, take advantage of farmers markets, of which there are several throughout the week in different parts of the Valley. You’ll be supporting local farmers—and shopping in a socially distanced way in the open air.
If you feel you’re not getting adequate essential vitamins and minerals in your diet, a daily multivitamin provides a nutritional safety net. Zinc and vitamins C and D are known to boost the immune response, and we certainly could use more of that in the months ahead.
The importance of regular exercise
Gina Adams, a producer of Legends in Concert at the Tropicana, has been passionate about health and wellness throughout her career. Last year, she co-founded Command Your Crown (commandyourcrown.com) with two friends as a way to “feel inspired again, lose weight, feel better about ourselves and focus on our health.”
Command Your Crown is centered on the 4M Method: motivation, movement, meals and mindset. It’s a holistic approach to reclaiming your health, which is of paramount importance, especially during the pandemic. When shows on the Strip closed, including Legends, Adams focused her energy on using her subscription-based business to help the local community.
“We offered it early on during the pandemic for free for people in our city,” she says. “We just wanted to give back and say, ‘Get on this train with us, and we’ll try and make this pleasant and fun.’”
Movement is one of the pillars of Adams’ method, and she suggests utilizing things around your house in your fitness routine. In fact, she says, there’s no real need to go to a gym or buy special equipment.
“A lot of people fall back on, ‘We can’t go to the gym, or I can’t lift weights,’” she says. “I started to take an hourlong walk every day. You go outside, keep yourself away from other people. An hour walk winds up being about almost 10,000 steps. Keeping yourself moving is really important.”
“But,” she continues, “there’s something for everybody out there that you can try to make [into] a habit and make enjoyable. Take a walk and call your sister. Take a walk and listen to a podcast. Before you know it, the podcast is over and your walk is done, and you’ve helped keep yourself a little bit more healthy.”
Don’t sleep on sleep
Since the start of the pandemic, our sleep patterns have been upended in several ways, to the detriment of our health.
First, the disruption to daily life—some of us are working from home or not working at all; our kids aren’t going to school—has changed our sleeping habits. Second, the lack of stimulation and variety in our days—we don’t go out as much, and our days have taken on an indistinguishable sameness—contributes to poor sleep.
Stress and anxiety are also factors, along with increased use of blue light-emitting devices. As a result, our circadian rhythms—that internal clock that runs on a 24-hour cycle—is out of sync. And when the circadian rhythm is off, it affects every cell in our bodies.
“During sleep, our system conserves energy by slowing down some of our body functions like heart rate and blood pressure, relaxing our muscle tone and decreasing our basal metabolism,” says Dr. Jinyoung Kim, associate professor in the School of Nursing at UNLV. “Lack of sleep means our body keeps consuming energy throughout the night, so that makes us feel fatigued during the day.”
And, Kim says, that can lead to lasting problems. “In the long term, it can involve the development of various diseases. A short-term effect could be on immunity—sleep loss directly [affects] the immune function, because during sleep, some important proteins for our immune system [called] cytokines are produced, [and they] target infection and inflammation. Because of the lack of sleep, cytokines are not released enough, [and] it makes us susceptible to infection.”
These are stressful times, and we all inevitably suffer through some sleepless nights, but there are some things we can do to help get a good night’s sleep, Kim says. They include having a consistent bedtime; avoiding exercise, large meals and emotional activities prior to bedtime; cutting off caffeine by noon; not napping longer than 30 minutes; and the hardest one of all: turning off screens at least an hour before bed.
So no, it’s not a good idea to binge-watch all 10 episodes of the fourth season of The Crown. Instead, treat yourself like royalty, and make sleep your priority.