Pandemic fatigue: Sacrifices made in last three months could potentially go to waste

Editor’s note:This story is being provided for free as a public service during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please consider supporting our local journalists in Nevada by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal. This is the fourth in a series of columns by Dr. Eric Nielsen. Nielsen has worked for 16 years inside emergency rooms. A Reno native and graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno Medical School, he works in the same hospital where he was born.

Nielsen is part of the Northern Nevada Emergency Physicians group, which staffs Renown Health hospitals. The group of 65 doctors continues to be on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus.

In the back of all of our minds, we hoped that if we shut everything down for a few months, stayed home, and the weather became warmer, everything would be all right.

We could all have a great summer and enjoy our friends and family. The virus would settle down and we could get back to work. The kids could go back to school this Fall and everything will be normal again.

Read more: Dr. Mark Pandori is working to uncover secrets of COVID-19’s spread in Nevada

We all need a positive attitude in times like these, yet at some point it starts to feel like wishful thinking.

Pandemic fatigue is real. I get it. We’ve already been doing this for months and it’s getting old. We shut our economy down, closed schools, and missed out on time with our friends and family. The sacrifices were substantial and extensive.

Because we have yet to experience our local surge, it’s been easy to let our guard down and develop a false sense of security. We all want things to go back to normal, yet that’s simply impossible now. COVID-19 behaves in many ways like a brush fire. We need to be focused and vigilant; otherwise it will quickly spread uncontrolled.

Major outbreaks are now happening in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona. Southern Nevada is also starting to catch fire, and our numbers up north are consistently trending upwards. Our efforts have limited the extent of the disease in our community so far, but let’s not be fools and think that it couldn’t happen here.

It is tempting to buy into the theory of just letting the virus run through our community, gain herd immunity, and be done with it. This method is not proven and there is no evidence to suggest that prior infection necessarily confers immunity or resistance longer than a few months. There’s a lot about this virus we simply don’t know yet.

Dr. Eric Nielsen poses for a photograph outside of Renown on April 1, 2020

Another flaw in this strategy is that our hospital capacity in Northern Nevada could become overwhelmed and limit our ability to properly care for not just COVID-19 patients, but everyone.

We also need to buy time in the hope that either a game changing therapeutic agent is discovered or an early and effective vaccine becomes available.

It is also tempting to think that if you’re young and healthy, COVID-19 is no big deal. Most of the cases in our county are in the 20-29 age demographic, yet most of the deaths are in the 70-79 age group. The virus uses these mild or asymptomatic spreaders to gain access to the most vulnerable members of our society. The deeper the disease penetrates into our community, the harder it will be to contain it and the greater the damage will be.

With that being said, a recent New York Times article revealed some concerning information regarding Houston’s outbreak:

”During the virus’s first peak in April, the majority of patients testing positive in the Methodist hospital system were older than 50 … Nearly one-third of intensive care patients are now under 50, much higher than in the initial coronavirus surge.”

This pandemic is frustrating. When will this end? We have to understand that COVID-19 spreads and kills on its own time frame, not ours. We will all have to learn how to pace ourselves, develop safe and sustainable habits, and understand this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this pandemic is that all those sacrifices we made in the last three months could potentially go to waste. As a community, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen. Let’s all consider these last few months our preseason; now the regular season starts.

Four goals for next few months

  • Wear a mask in public. Wear it consistently and correctly, covering both your nose and mouth.
  • Avoid crowded indoor public places.
  • Limit private social gatherings; be reasonable about the number. Keep your distance and keep it outdoors.
  • Wash your hands.

The four benefits:

  • Maybe, just maybe, our kids could all go back to school this Fall.
  • We can keep smart and safe businesses operating as usual.
  • We can continue to gather with our close group of friends and family that are responsible and reliable about the situation.
  • We can limit illness and loss of work, hospitalizations and deaths.

Containing the disease will keep businesses and schools open. Failing to do so will only lead to additional shutdowns imposed by our government. Just look around the country; states that closed late and opened early are now being forced to pause reopenings or shut down again.

We are not helpless as a community and I’m here to tell you that there is hope. COVID-19 is a disease of communities, and the only proven method to limit its spread is being responsible as a citizen regarding our behavior. Mask-wearing and social distancing are remarkably effective, especially if we all buy into the concept.

We are not asking you to do something we haven’t all done before or anything unreasonable. We already accomplished some great things as a community these last few months. The stakes just became much more real. As we celebrate our Fourth of July weekend, keep this in mind. Wear masks in public, keep your distance and don’t gather inappropriately.

Let’s do it for our economy and our jobs. Let’s do it for our children, who need the safety net and structure that normal school provides. Let’s do it for our elderly and the health of all our citizens. Now more than ever, we need to be Battle Born, Battle Strong.

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