A recent Newsday article passed along this reminder of our not-too-distant past: “During the height of the pandemic, the daily toll of infections, hospitalizations and deaths was grim and overwhelming. In April, over 700 New Yorkers died in one day.” Today, six months after New Yorkers first hunkered down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, “There’s this sense that everyone’s waiting for the other shoe to drop,” says Dr. William Sanderson, a psychologist and director of the Anxiety and Depression Clinic at Hofstra University. There is also the perception by an increasing number of people that they are now somehow less susceptible to COVID-19 or that the severity of illness isn’t as bad as it has been made out to be.
Fatigue has set in, says Jay Maddock, a professor of public health at Texas A&M University in a recent article in The Conversation. “Fewer in the U.S. are reporting the fear that triggered all those germ-avoiding actions in the spring. … Pandemic fatigue is real, and it’s draining to stay on high alert month after month after month.”
This line of thinking is taking hold, even though there is still no cure or vaccine and case counts are alarmingly on the rise. As has been well reported, nearly a quarter of a million Americans have died from COVID-19 and, as pointed out by Harvard Health, the virus has claimed as many American lives as World War I, the Vietnam War and the Korean War combined. Its advance has not let up, and we cannot afford to let up either. According to Live Science, as recently as Oct. 25, the U.S. recorded its highest seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.
As difficult as it may seem, we must strengthen our resolve to follow prevention measures. We must model appropriate behavior because, as Maddock points out, a major way to encourage healthy behavior is through observational learning.
We must continue to support of our first responders and essential workers. Understand that, six months into the coronavirus pandemic, they are going through their own trials and tribulations. The strain on these workers is so much greater than what most of us will ever bear. A new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a high number of health care workers hospitalized during the early months of the pandemic. According to the report, approximately 6% of adults hospitalized from March through May were health care workers. Around 27% of those hospitalized workers were admitted to the intensive care unit, and 4% died during their hospital stay.
“Even though workers may be taking more precautions and treatments have improved in recent months, the analysis underscored how vulnerable many individuals are because of underlying health conditions, which include diabetes and high blood pressure,” reports Reed Abelson in The New York Times. “Almost three-quarters of those hospitalized were obese, a high-risk category for death … The study highlighted the potential risk faced by nurses who serve as front-line workers ‘because of their frequent and close patient contact, leading to extended cumulative exposure time.'” As we face a surge of new hospitalizations around the country, that risk will escalate.
We also cannot forget the thousands of low-paid certified nursing assistants that work at nursing homes around the country. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, more than 84,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died from COVID-19 across the U.S. Care facility outbreaks represent 40% of all coronavirus fatalities in the country, says Kaiser.
There is much that is just now being learned about COVID-19 infections. As Harvard Health recently reported, while the respiratory complications it causes are well known, new research is now suggesting that there may be long-term neurologic consequences for the 7 million Americans who survive infections, as the virus also attacks the nervous system.
The Harvard study also found that a number of patients with COVID-19 suffered strokes. According to their findings, young individuals are seven times more likely to have a stroke from this coronavirus versus a typical flu virus. For those in the ICU, strokes due to COVID-19 are “common,” says the Harvard report, particularly in those over 70.
“While sometimes the brain damage is obvious and leads to major cognitive impairment, more frequently the damage is mild, leading to difficulties with sustained attention,” writes Harvard’s Dr. Andrew E. Budson.
More evidence is also emerging that it is possible to contract the novel coronavirus more than once. As recently reported in Mexico, and covered by the website The Scientist, a study has shown that at least 285 individuals appear to have contracted the novel coronavirus twice. It is important to note that the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it represents the largest number of cases to date with the possibility of COVID-19 reinfection. “It fuels an ongoing discussion among researchers about how long immunity to the virus lasts after an initial infection and how that length of immunity may affect the way vaccines against the virus are administered in the future,” writes Ashley Yeager.
“Pandemic fatigue is real, and it’s draining to stay on high alert month after month after month. Understanding it better might help you strengthen your resolve,” says Maddock.