Expert: Pandemic fatigue affects compliance with safety measures

Expert: Pandemic fatigue affects compliance with safety measures

HARLINGEN — Stand six feet apart.

Wear your face mask, wash your hands often, and don’t touch your face.

Tired of listening to it? Many people are, and that can lead to what Dr. Christopher Romero calls pandemic fatigue. There are so many safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 that it can wear anyone out.

“Pandemic fatigue is the natural reaction many of us may have to the constant stress from an invisible threat,” said Romero, internal medicine specialist at Valley Baptist Medical Center – Harlingen.

People everywhere have had to alter in a substantial way their daily routines to reduce exposure to COVID-19. This can create all manner of psychological and emotional duress, and that in turn can lead to physical manifestations such as fatigue and poor sleep, Romero said.

“One of the threats from pandemic fatigue is that it can lead to a sense of apathy for continuing to maintain appropriate infection prevention measures,” Romero said. “As people feel worn out, they begin to let their guard down and this puts them and those around them at higher risk of infection.”

This risk necessarily highlights the importance of recognizing pandemic fatigue and taking steps to address it.

“It’s important to talk to others if you are having these feelings and recognize that it is a real and natural reaction,” Romero said. “To combat this response, I find it’s important to stay connected to those people in your life that matter most, even if we may be maintaining physical distance.”

Once again the benefits of technology enter the conversation; Romero said that, in this time, loved ones are just a call away by cell phone, and many have video chat readily available. Romero emphasized the importance of this kind of distancing. He pointed out that COVID-19 spreads like the flu but is 10 times more fatal. Being a new virus, people have no immunity to infection.

That vulnerability is what keeps Sophie Cantu attentive to the realities of COVID–19 safety measures. As a unit director at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harlingen Lemoyne Gardens Unit, there’s no room for becoming lax about safety measures.

“Being in the position I am in, it’s important to not allow the kids and my staff to get to that point,” Cantu said. “I want them to protect themselves and the people around them in order for the kids to be able to come back to school.”

Away from the job, she’s still found pandemic fatigue to be a recognizable problem and has found ways to cope.

“I think one way that I cope with this is I try to stay away from the Internet,” Cantu said. “I read a lot and I try to stay informed.”

Romero said it’s also important to disconnect.

“It’s important to take time to take care of your own mental and spiritual health,” Romero said. “Take time to unplug from the constant information stream and focus on what matters most in your life.”

A recent spike in COVID-19 cases locally has prompted the reimplementation of mandatory face masks in local businesses by Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. Romero gave specific numbers to indicate the validity of those measures.

“As the virus has spread in the Rio Grande Valley, more and more individuals have required hospitalization and 74 individuals have passed away from the infection across our region,” he said. “It will still be several months before the first vaccines to COVID-19 become available and we do not have a medication that can reliably treat the infection.”

However, there is still some good news.

“We are learning more about this novel virus on a daily basis,” he said. “New experimental treatments are becoming available and we are hopeful that critical medical supplies will remain available.”