COVID-19’s long term effects and the path to normalcy

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Dr. Joseph Wright serves as the senior vice president and chief medical officer for UM Capital Region Health. For him, the only road to recovery from COVID-19 is through vaccination.

By Megan Sayles
AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
msayles@afro.com

Aside from impairing our physical health, the COVID-19 pandemic has had long term effects on our mental and emotional well-being. The fear of getting sick combined with long stretches of isolation have contributed to mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. 

“This is a stressor or a trigger that no one can predict or prepare you for, and I don’t know that we are wired to endure something like this,” said Erika Pelz-Butler, clinical social worker at UM Capital Region Health. 

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For some that experience anxiety and depression because of biological factors, symptoms have become worse. Those who have not struggled with mental illnesses in the past have, in some cases, experienced an acute stress response. This causes symptoms of depression and anxiety to develop because of exposure to a stressful event. 

Although the strain on mental health can be seen across all demographics, Pelz-Butler said young adults and adolescents have been especially impacted because of how socially connected they are. 

To manage these symptoms, Pelz-Butler advised that people try progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, deep breathing and mindful eating. Exercising mindfulness techniques allows individuals to focus on their senses at the present moment, which can direct their attention away from stressors and triggers. 

If an individual’s mental health is causing basic functioning–like sleep, hygiene or performance at work– to be impaired, Pelz-Butler suggested seeking professional help. 

“If you think you need to [go to therapy], you could benefit,” said Pelz-Butler. “You don’t have to be in horrible shape to benefit from therapy or intervention.” 

Throughout the pandemic, the burning question has been: when will the COVID-19 pandemic end? The answer to that question remains unknown, but Dr. Joseph Wright, senior vice president and chief medical officer for UM Capital Region Health, said COVID-19 cases continue to surge. 

“We are far from being out of the risk of the Coronavirus, and the only way out is to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Wright. “Right now this is a surge of the unvaccinated. That is who is getting sick, who is being hospitalized and who is dying.” 

In particular, the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible, is seeking out the unvaccinated. Dr. Wright said as long as there is the level of community spread associated with this variant the world will not be in a place to return to any sense of normalcy anytime soon. 

Dr. Wright deemed the Coronavirus pandemic to be a public health crisis. Those who harbor hesitations regarding the vaccine should get the shot because it will not only protect them individually from hospitalization and death, but also protect people around them, especially children.

“This is a very highly transmissible, infectious disease, and folks have to consider the impact on those that they love and those that they care about,” said Dr. Wright.

To prevent being influenced by misinformation about the vaccine, Dr. Wright recommended that individuals seek out and listen to trusted sources that employ fact and science. 

According to Dr. Wright, scientific research suggests that the Coronavirus will eventually become endemic. After the population achieves herd immunity through the vaccine and exits the pandemic phase, the virus will still live among us, which will likely beget a need for annual booster shots. 

Dr. Wright said he supported vaccine mandates for COVID-19. Some members of the public are pretending as though these directives are not commonplace, according to Dr. Wright, but there is a long history of required shots for preventable diseases. 

“The vaccine mandates are our path back to normalcy,” said Dr. Wright. “Requiring individuals to protect themselves and those around them is the only way out of this pandemic.” 

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