Here in Massachusetts, we have had a stellar response to COVID-19. Our numbers are proof. Daily, both positive tests and COVID-19 deaths continue on a downward trend. We took the experts' advice to heart, limited our public exposure, practiced vigilant hygiene and protection, and carefully chose who we had face-to-face time with. That was the goal… and we have achieved it. Well done, us!
Vehicles are back on the roads, quiet trails we used to walk are quiet no longer, and parking lots are filling up. We have become conditioned to take caution when we talk with neighbors. Some wave and run indoors, some keep a reasonable distance and shout from under their mask, and some get so close you back up, or worse, have to remind them you prefer a little distance.
Now, we have a new normal of some contact. The rules for no contact were easier. Stay at home. See no one. Go only to essential places and as infrequently as possible. That was clear. We didn't like it, but we knew what to do.
As restrictions ease up, more decisions are falling on us about how we will engage with our community. How do we know what is “right” or “wrong?” Although houses of worship are clear to resume, many are choosing to continue online services until the Fall. Schools and sports are non-committal about Fall schedules. Hospitals and Long-Term Care facilities are reassessing their "no visitor" policy and may roll out a "one visitor per patient" policy, with screening and protection.
We are still in the early stages of understanding this pathogen, this virus, this killer. Medical experts continue to find unique attachments and impact of the COVID-19 on numerous body systems, from a virus once thought to be limited to the respiratory tract. New evidence proves otherwise.
There has been a prevailing sense of "powerlessness" these past months. We were all indoors, working from home, no school, no socialization, yet the numbers went up and up. As our communities "reopen:" remember the power we do have. Our intentional interventions are what is bringing cases and deaths down. The principles of hygiene, distancing, and masks remain crucial. By continuing to use these, we are protecting ourselves and others.
How can you empower yourself during COVID-19?
I'm often asked, "I see masks worn as decoration…below the nose or worse, at the chin, covering neither nose or mouth. I want to say something, but what?" We've all seen this. One response option is to give this person the benefit of the doubt. You could say, "You may not realize, but your mask has fallen below your nose." If that gets no response, I have added, "you may not know this, but a mask is useless worn like that and offers ME and YOU no protection at all."
As a nurse, I have been tempted to reveal my profession (details excluded) as a reminder that you don't know who you are face-to-face with, or what their exposure has been. We may be shopping in the garden center together. One of us may be an EMT, an ICU Doctor, or a grocery cashier. COVID-19 has no "aura."
If you notice this at the grocery, hardware, or garden center, ask to speak to a manager. I just got off the phone with my local hardware store. My efforts to encourage a cashier to put the mask over her nose fell on deaf ears. All commerce is being held to high standards. Mandates have been issued and must be followed. The manager I spoke with was eager to rectify the problem. If we don't speak up…who will?
Masks weren't a problem in March, or in cold, rainy April. However, as the weather warms, masks will become burdensome. Walkers, runners, and cyclists will want no barrier to free breath. Those working outdoors in hot weather will face challenges by wearing masks. If you have a low probability of face-to-face contact, particularly outdoors, your need for a mask is less. Still, interior spaces and "close quarters" remain at high risk.
Resist the "eye-rolling" or jabbing you may get if you wear your mask. Be confident in your self-care, your own personal protection, and be proud of the concern you have for the more vulnerable among us. We’re all still in this together.