As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, local health officials are urging the community to continue personal safety measures as a means to combat the spread of the virus.
While early efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 – such as shelter in place orders and minimizing travel – were successful, health experts are concerned that the Rio Grande Valley could see a surge in COVID-19 activity as local residents yearn to return to “normal life” and mental fatigue associated with the virus sets in.
“Pandemic fatigue, or quarantine fatigue, are terms we are beginning to see more and more to describe the psychological toll that the COVID19 pandemic is taking on all of us. This may manifest as real physical fatigue or exhaustion, depression, irritability, or apathy for continuing to maintain infection prevention measures that have been put in place to keep us safe,” said Dr. Christopher Romero, internal medicine specialist and physician adviser at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen. “This is the result of the stress and enormous efforts everyone had to exert since the start of the pandemic to prepare and manage the lockdown and our new normal. We have all been dealing with high levels of stress, uncertainty, and a new daily threat to ourselves and our families. This coupled with the physical isolation from our loved ones, financial hardships, and increased socio-political unrest in our country has caused pandemic fatigue to become increasingly widespread.”
For local members of the community, as well as physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals tasked with caring for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, the unprecedented nature of the situation has contributed to mental fatigue surrounding the virus.
“This is a challenge our nation has not faced in any of our lifetimes. Unfortunately pandemic fatigue can cause us to lose sight of the real threat that still exists in our community,” Romero said. “We need to all remember what we are fighting for and why. If we become complacent and allow COVID-19 to spread rapidly through our community we will overwhelm our hospitals and clinics, resulting in more deaths and suffering that could be avoided.”
Romero said that making a conscious effort to maintaining a positive attitude can help keep mental fatigue at bay.
“How I personally combat pandemic fatigue is by daily trying to keep this situation in perspective. I try and stay positive and remember that things have gotten better. Remember not that long ago grocery store shelves were empty and we couldn’t easily find the bare essentials,” he said. “We have been bracing for our hospitals to be overrun with patients and not have enough supplies to care for them. Fortunately we have been able to avoid that crisis so far, and it’s not by accident but by the dedication of our community.”
At the onset of the pandemic, the U.S Centers for Disease Control & Prevention outlined a number of methods for local residents to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19. Such measures, including frequent hand washing, social distancing, and the use of face coverings in public, have been proving to be successful in slowing the rate of COVID-19’s spread, Romero said.
“At the beginning of the pandemic numerous measures were put in place to help protect our community. These measures were highly effective. Mathematical models have shown how much spread a community can experience. Using a model of community spread developed by the University of Pennsylvania Academic Medical Center if no infection prevention measures of social distancing were put in place in Cameron County we were predicted to have more than 70 patients per day admitted to each hospital,” he said. “That would have completely overwhelmed our healthcare system and patient care would have greatly suffered. I am proud of the Rio Grande Valley and how we have proven to the world that we truly care about one another down here.”
However, Romero urged the community to fight through pandemic fatigue and continue to practice the protective measures that have been successful, especially the use of face coverings in public as a means to protect not only ourselves, but those who may be more vulnerable to the virus.
“The importance of masks is to prevent the spread of the virus by those people who may not know they are infected and contagious yet,” he said. “People can spread the virus before they develop symptoms, which has been demonstrated in research from around the world. Wearing a mask is only one of our weapons to fight COVID-19, but it’s an important one. When out and about we don’t know who may have cancer, diabetes, lung problems, or other health issues that make them more susceptible to COVID19. Wearing a mask helps protect others in our community and can slow the spread of this deadly virus.”
Romero said that the recent surge in COVID-19 activity is a troubling development, he is confident that local residents will continue to do their part to protect themselves and others from the virus.
“I am very concerned by the rise in hospitalized patients recently. It is a real possibility that all of our hard work and progress could be erased if this trend continues,” he said. “We have seen an increase in patients requiring hospitalization and patients passing away. This week in Cameron County we have seen our highest number patients in our isolation beds. In May we did see a large decline in patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19, which was a direct result from everyone’s hard work and dedication. Now that these improvements have been lost we all need to realize that our personal efforts do make a difference. We brought these numbers down from their previous spike in May, and we can do it again. Success or failure is up to each and every one of us.”
Romero said that as local residents continue to battle the virus, remembering the health of those who are more vulnerable is one way to remind the community that everyone has a role to play in the efforts against COVID-19.
“I like to keep in perspective what’s at stake. Our mortality rate has been higher than the national and state average, and we know that COVID-19 is more dangerous for people with diabetes, who are overweight, or have other health problems that we see so often in the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “So I see it as things have gotten better, our hard work has paid off, and I still need to do my part to protect everyone around me, young and old. The British Empire battled without support from the United States for two years during World War II, and they handled this momentous task with a simple yet timely phrase, ‘Keep calm, and carry on.’ It may be a mindset we all should try and adopt now.”
- As recommended by the CDC and local health officials, individuals should wear a cloth face covering if they need to leave their home for essential travel.
- Stay home if you have a cold to prevent the spread of infection.
- Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Keep six feet away from others while in public.
- Contact your physician and seek medical care if you are having trouble breathing, confusion, or high fever.
- If you will be seeking medical care for symptoms that you think may be from COVID-19, please call ahead to notify your physician so that they may be ready for your arrival.
- For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (www.CDC.gov), as well as the Cameron County Public Health Department website (www.cameroncounty.us/publichealth/).