In this world of misinformation, fear, social media overload, and mistrust, seek counsel from your health care provider.
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have witnessed the bravery of my colleagues on the front lines treating patients and putting themselves and their families at risk, heroic nurses swabbing hundreds of patients tirelessly in 100-degree heat in full PPE, the selflessness of volunteers donating time and funds to those in need and hurting from the economic impact of this pandemic.
I remain hopeful these voices of compassion, inspiration, and giving win out over the voices of fear, misinformation, and distrust of our medical and political system.
I, too, am frustrated by the lack of a unified front against this disease, that politics sometimes win over science and reason, and how easily people can be misled.
I shouldn’t be so surprised, however. I witness this every day with my patients in primary care. When confronted with life-altering decisions about their health often times people choose to perpetuate their problems by continuing to smoke, not exercise, ignoring eating habits that lead to weight gain, and trusting advice from Dr. Google and their friends over mine. People have a hard time owning up to their own health concerns, so why should they be concerned about the overall health of our society?
There’s no question that wearing a mask is uncomfortable. There’s no question being 6 feet apart feels uncomfortable, socially distant, and forced. It’s just the right thing to do, in my opinion, which makes this also a moral choice.
Inevitably this is a small sacrifice for the health care of our society. While we wish this whole thing would go away, it doesn’t seem like it will anytime soon.
During these challenging times, there have been so many changes in our routines, regimens, support systems, social interactions. It highlights the importance of the fundamentals of nutrition, regular exercise, mental health, family, and social support.
As a family medicine and sports medicine physician, I see patients every day struggling with anxiety, depression, constant worry, difficulty maintaining their health, weight, mental health. One of the simplest solutions to every single one of these concerns is exercise and eating right! Also, one of the most difficult things to execute and maintain. It takes a plan, diligence, and intention, but I promise it’s worth it!
I love exercising outdoors; being in nature is a wonderful mental health break and a great place to exercise safely during the pandemic. Unfortunately, in a Florida summer, the heat index reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit regularly. This is when I typically take my workouts indoors.
During the environment of the pandemic, I have dealt with internal conflicts of whether or not to go to the gym.
First, is it safe? Second, should I wear a mask? I have personally seen patients who have contracted COVID-19 from the gym, although maybe from a group exercise class. I need to be an example for my patients, my family, my kids, and my community. I also have a responsibility to stay well so I can care for my patients and keep colleagues healthy. So what to do?
Making decisions during this pandemic feels like parenting to me. Review the available evidence, interpret the information, apply to my personal life and perspective, bounce ideas off of colleagues and friends, and consider opposing opinions.
I feel the intention behind the stares as I exercise in my mask. I’m actually wearing this mask out of courtesy to you, in addition to trying to protect me. This is so simple. Imperfect yes, but the simplest thing we can do to protect each other. The lack of social responsibility infuriates me, disappoints me. I understand why people are confused, frustrated, but science has never been exact. We feel more comfortable with absolutes, but in life, there are rarely any. If you walk into my office, onto our campus, everyone is wearing a mask proudly. Proud to protect ourselves, our colleagues, our patients, each other while science catches up to this novel disease.
I walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts at the end of June. The small room was filled with at least 20 people, and I was the only one wearing a mask. I thought about leaving for many reasons, exposure risk to me, fear of retaliation for wearing my mask, but the line went quickly. Strangers were having lively conversations; people were standing close to one another in line. I was baffled. We seek human connection and are social creatures, but do people truly understand the risk? Why not wear a mask to reduce everyone’s risk?
Never in my lifetime have we been asked as a nation, as a world to be altruistic, to think about the greater good so often. If you decided not to wear a seatbelt, we know this increases your risk of death in a car accident. However, people still decide not to wear a seatbelt. Sometimes behavior change requires mandates.
Laws, education, and technology have increased seat belt use from 11 percent in 1981 to nearly 85 percent in 2010, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Yet, about 1 in 7 people still don’t buckle up.
Science has proven wearing masks, and social distancing reduces the spread of COVID-19. Yes, there are people who haven’t gotten sick. Your social media feed is full of opinions and anecdotes. In this world of constant information at your fingertips, alerts and breaking news stories, social media barrages, I encourage you to go back to science and what your medical providers are recommending.
We can fight this pandemic together. Let’s help each other, one person at a time.
Kristina DeMatas is a family and sports medicine physician at Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida, and founder, Sporty Doctor, where she shares rehabilitation tips, home treatments, and product recommendations. She can also be reached on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on Twitter @SportyDoctor.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com