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After six months of coping with COVID-19, most of us have found unique ways to continue to live life while staying safe, such as virtual hangouts, socially distant picnics or outdoor activities like hikes.
However, a number of people have started to let down their guard and engage in risky activities — going to crowded bars or throwing indoor parties without masking and social distancing, for instance. We also see many examples of people refusing to wear masks in enclosed public places like restaurants and stores, and claiming that COVID-19 is a hoax or that it’s no longer a threat.
These divergent behaviors and beliefs are creating often-serious rifts among family members, friends and co-workers.
Here, Navtej Sandhu, MD, emergency medicine physician at Rush Oak Park Hospital, and Sharon Jedel, PsyD, clinical psychologist at Rush University Medical Center, provide facts about the impact of COVID-19 and discuss ways to maintain relationships with loved ones who believe — or are behaving as if — the pandemic is over.
Although the novel coronavirus first appeared months ago, it is by no means weakening. In fact, the opposite is true.
“We’re seeing over 60,000 new cases every day in the United States, which is higher than when the pandemic first started,” Sandhu says. “So the virus has definitely not gone away, and it’s important to continue adhering to guidelines.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes three guidelines to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19: proper hand hygiene, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask in public. And Sandhu notes that the most impactful of these recommendations is wearing a mask.
“I know that wearing a mask has become a bit of a debate, but in terms of being protective, it’s the most important thing that you can do while in public,” Sandhu says. “Not only does it protect you from getting COVID-19, it also helps prevent the spread from you to other people.”
Not only do masks protect you from getting COVID-19, they also help prevent the spread from you to other people.
Research shows that the respiratory droplets we produce, which carry COVID-19, can be reduced by 80% to 90% by wearing a simple cloth mask.
It’s important not just to wear a mask, but to wear it properly. “It needs to be completely covering your nose and mouth to be effective,” Sandhu says. “This is key because there are a lot of asymptomatic carriers — those who are not aware they have the virus and are spreading it, ultimately affecting the safety of others.”
During a public health crisis such as COVID-19, it’s crucial to feel safe. Yet one of the many challenges during a pandemic is how differently people experience personal safety and emotional security.
Jedel says that people who are cautious about the virus are concerned about the health and well-being of their loved ones. She adds that by now most people have been directly impacted by COVID-19 — whether physically, emotionally, socially or financially — which can result in stronger feelings about the pandemic.
Research shows that the coronavirus has caused an increase in anxiety, depression, stress and sleep disturbance. One reason is the toll the virus is taking on our lives — including increased isolation, unemployment, financial concerns, challenges with home schooling or working from home, and a general sense of uncertainty about the future.
“It can be very frightening and confusing if you think that your loved one is not taking appropriate precautions and participating in risky behavior,” Jedel says. “On the other hand, some people feel that their loved one is overreacting and being too cautious. This, too, can contribute to feelings of anger and confusion, so it’s important to respect each other’s beliefs.”
The pandemic has different meanings to each of us, and we’re all willing to take different risks, so it can be hard to handle loved ones who have a difference of opinion regarding COVID-19. To help you navigate these situations, Jedel recommends the following:
COVID-19 will continue to challenge us physically, emotionally and mentally in the months ahead. To preserve our relationships as well as our health and well-being, it’s important to acknowledge the impact the virus has had on each of us. That includes people who have not yet been impacted and, as a result, may not see the pandemic as a threat.
Or, as Sandhu explains: “We need to be in this mindset of taking the necessary steps to protect and respect ourselves, our families and communities as a whole — body and mind.”
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