Lessons from COVID-19

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

It’s been a tough several months. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched everyone in many different ways. Despite the losses and challenges, an event as far-reaching as a pandemic can unexpectedly teach us good lessons.

We need to become more self-sufficient with food

“I think that year-round people need to be conscious of food and keep a stock of some basic standards, some staples in their pantry that they can rely on,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian in private practice in Williamsville.

Many people live week-to-week for their food supply. Exacerbated by job loss, food access became an even bigger concern early in the pandemic, especially in the light of food availability once some people began hoarding food and supply chains became disrupted.

It’s good to build up a supply such as this for any emergency that can limit food access such as job loss, blizzard or other event. Stocking up doesn’t mean dropping a few hundred dollars for food at once. Picking up a few extra items each shopping trip can quickly build up a supply.

“If the meat supply is running short, it’s good to have tuna in your pantry, some jerky or cereal that’s higher in protein,” Parker said. “Have a stock of the ancient grains that are higher in protein and rich in nutrients.”

We need to be better prepared

“We weren’t as prepared as a society as we thought we were,” said physician Joshua Usen with Primary Care of Western New York in Williamsville. “We need to have a back-up plan for things such as child care and alt ways to do your job.”

He added that many people lacked a primary care doctor before the crisis, prompting many urgent calls and few available resources to help.

He also said that those with pre-existing chronic illnesses who aren’t taking proper care of themselves are more vulnerable when a health crisis arises.

As for providers, numerous health care organizations were short on personal protective equipment (PPE), among other supplies and equipment.

We need to think more of others

While it’s easy for healthy people to not fear illnesses that more heavily target elderly and sick persons, communicable diseases should be everyone’s concern.

“Understand that the decisions you make for yourself impact your community,” Usen said. “People wear masks for the community, not for themselves.”

We need to seek accurate information

YouTube videos, forwarded social media posts, anecdotal accounts and many other sources of information do not hold the same weight as peer-reviewed, double-blind studies upon which the information from reputable sources is based.

“Listen to the experts, including the regional health departments,” Usen said. “Check the sources of your health information.”

For searching online, physician Michael Dlugosz, — with Highgate Medical Group, PC in West Amherst — recommends sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and Mayo Clinic.

We need to improve hand hygiene

Whether it’s flu season or a pandemic, proper hand hygiene makes a huge difference in transmission.

“It does work,” Dlugosz said. “It’s what our mom and dad taught us and now we’re re-emphasizing it.

“At the beginning of all of this, we were hyper-vigilant about washing hands. I think now we’re reaching a point of risking complacency. We have to keep re-energizing these facts so we don’t see another peak.”

He credits handwashing, along with social distancing, as key to flattening the curve and helping prevent the “terrifying forecast” of infection from coming true. But handwashing must include lathering the hands with soap and scrubbing for 20 seconds before rinsing and drying.

“If that’s not available, use hand sanitizer,” he said.

We need to stop presenteeism

“Presenteeism” was coined to describe workers who show up at the job even though they’re sick. Instead of touting this as a good work ethic, employers need to create an environment where employees feel secure enough in their position that they can take time off for illness as needed.

“When you’re sick, it’s not only for yourself but for everyone around you,” Dlugosz said.

We need to vaccinate

As vaccines have become commonplace, it is easy to forget the dread of diseases that can badly sicken many people. Some people elect not to vaccinate; however, “COVID-19 gave us a glimpse of an unvaccinated world,” Dlugosz said. “If we didn’t have flu or pneumonia vaccine, it’s how bad it could be. When it’s flu season, get vaccinated or this is what can happen.”

He hopes a COVID-19 vaccination will be available by the end of this year.

We’re pretty good at helping out

Dlugosz likens those pitching in to help during COVID-19’s spread to those volunteering on the home front during a war, “where you found people taking on other responsibilities for the sake of common good.”

Whether sewing masks at home as individuals or pivoting as companies to make helpful products to fight the coronavirus, many Americans found ways to participate.