Dr. Ducharme’s Blog March 16, 2020 Managing Social Isolation

March 16, 2020
Dr. Elaine Ducharme
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We are clearly in uncharted waters. Many of us are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, confused by conflicting media reports, sad about cancellation of important events and not quite sure what to do. Parents are wondering how to manage work and child care with all the schools closed.

We are social creatures. And in spite of the fact that so much of our contact is on social media, human contact and touch are incredibly important to both our physical and mental health. So, how should we proceed? And how do we cope?

First, I will say that it is really important to understand that what we do over the next couple of weeks will have a significant impact on the national trajectory of coronavirus. I know that many have been really concerned about testing and the lack of availability of test kits. But, that is really only a part of this situation. Testing lets us know about numbers of cases. But numbers alone do not stop the spread. We significantly reduce the spread by staying away from each other. Unfortunately, the corona virus can be spread both before symptoms appear  (4-5 days) and even  after symptoms are gone. And of course, wash your hands regularly.  A friend reminded me to use a hand wipe or tissue when pumping gas.

 An excellent article by Dr. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs in Boston, Mass, entitled, Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day gives excellent information with details from the CDC about this. Briefly, he points out that by staying away from each other we can flatten the curve of the projected numbers of people who will become ill and be better able to manage those who need serious medical attention. On a regular day our country has about 45,000 staffed ICU beds which can be ramped up to 95,000 in a crisis. However, even moderate projections suggest that if current trends, similar to those seen in  China and Italy continue, our healthcare system will be overwhelmed. There is concern over the number of available respirators and as more people are exposed, even the numbers of staff to care for the sick will be decreased.

Yet, we all have the power to help this situation. Banding together, avoiding blame or politicizing, we can agree to stay apart. We can avoid public gatherings. This means more than avoiding concerts and other public events. It means avoiding playdates, sleepovers and even connecting with smaller groups. Even if you are not sick, you can be a carrier. I was heartbroken to have to tell my grandson that we were going to cancel his trip up to CT for his spring break visit. But it was the right thing to do, for all of us.

I, like many if not most of my colleagues, am asking patients to consider phone or video sessions during this time. If you don’t feel well, please stay home. None of my colleagues are charging for last minute cancellations because of illness or even fear. Parents, I know the idea of entertaining your kids over the next few weeks may be overwhelming, but, there are some really cool things you can do. First, do consider having your kids connect with friends and relatives via Skype or FaceTime .

Many museums are offering virtual tours from the comfort of your couch. This is a great way to “visit” the Louvre or the Guggenheim. The web is literally bursting with ideas to keep your kids occupied during this time. Board games, reading together, building forts, baking, dong crafts are all things that can keep everyone busy. Please don’t forget, that while you are being asked to socially isolate, that does not mean you have to stay indoors. The weather has really been nice. So, go for walks and hikes, play soccer in your backyard, bake together and make sure your kids are doing any homework they have been assigned or are attending their virtual classes. Here is another link to an article in the Guardian with ideas on managing the social isolation.

Please, please be considerate of others. This is temporary. And if we all work together it will be shorter rather than longer. This is not a hurricane. We still have water and power. So we don’t need endless supplies of peanut butter and Mac and cheese. Our grocery stores and pharmacies will most likely remain open as they have in Europe. So, shelves will be restocked and you will be able to get supplies. Buy what you need but do not hoard.

I also want people to recognize that will will get through this together. It is important not to panic. Do not overwhelm yourself by listening to the news 24-7. Sometimes…in fact, many times…the news is someones opinion, not necessarily fact. So, listen for short periods of time in the am and pm. Go directly to the CDC’s website to get current information. And certainly, talk to a psychologist of other mental health professional if you truly feel overwhelmed.