• April 2, 2020

CATES: Now is the time to hunker down - Odessa American: Health

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CATES: Now is the time to hunker down

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Posted: Monday, March 23, 2020 4:00 am

Schools are closed, state and national health care leaders are encouraging cancelling all large gatherings and the definition of “large” keeps changing to a smaller number. We have been encouraged as a society to “hunker down” to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he would rather err on the side of being “overly aggressive” with hunkering down and get criticism for overreacting, than to under-react and overwhelm the health care system.

So what does hunker down mean? At its basic, it means stay at home as much as you can, and interact with the fewest possible people, especially if you are a person who is at high risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) people at high risk are those who are over 60 and those who have serious chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes.

People who have compromised immune systems, like people with cancer, those who have autoimmune disorders, people with HIV, and people who have received organ donations are also at higher risk. If you are in one of those populations, it is especially important that you heed advice and “hunker down.”

If you are not at high risk, you still need to “hunker down” so you avoid the people who are as much as possible.

I know it is incredibly difficult, but think twice about visiting older loved ones in person. Apps like FaceTime and Skype are great for interacting with your loved ones without the risk of exposing them.

If you do need to see loved ones for things like bringing them groceries and supplies, make sure you wash your hands before entering their home or personal space and again when you leave, and keep touching to a minimum. Do not go see at risk loved ones if you are sick. Avoid visiting healthcare organizations unless you are seeking medical care. Patients in hospitals and nursing homes can fall into multiple high-risk categories making them the most vulnerable populations of all.

If you do have to go out and about, here are some great precautions against contracting the virus. Wash your hands frequently — soap and water for at least 20 seconds is your best option. Use hand sanitizers when soap and water is not an option, and keep hand sanitizers in locations that will help keep the virus out of your personal spaces — at entryways, in your car, at your desk at work.

Use tissues or other barriers when contacting high-touch objects in public spaces, like door knobs, elevator buttons, counter tops and gas pump handles. Use the styluses with a barrier at registers, not your fingers. I know this is very hard for us in West Texas, but avoid hugs and handshakes. Fist bump, elbow bump, or play the game like we did in elementary school where you tap opposite toes together (personally, I like that one, it causes smiles and laughs just like hugs do).

Wipe down surfaces you can with disinfecting wipes — like shopping carts. Think about the high-touch things in your home or office, too — keyboards, cell phones, remote controls — and make sure you are cleaning those things regularly. Try to stay at least 6 feet from others, and avoid places that may have crowds as much as possible — theaters, restaurants, bars, and even church services.

Many churches now have televised or streaming services. Attend and interact with your church family virtually until this crisis has passed. I have no doubt your church leaders will understand.

The CDC does not recommend that people in the general population wear masks — the World Health Organization (WHO) has the same advice. Masks are best reserved for people taking care of those who are sick because they cannot avoid close contact.

Masks have to fitted and worn properly to provide protection — which does not happen most of the time in the hands of untrained individuals. Handwashing and social distancing — staying 6 feet away from others is going to protect the average person far better than wearing a mask.

Finally, please make sure you are getting advice on weathering this crisis from reputable sources — our local health department, the Texas State Department of Health Services, the CDC, the WHO, and your primary health care provider. There is a whole lot of misinformation flying around out there, and unfortunately, people who prey on fear to take advantage of others. Stay safe and hunker down.

Odessa, TX

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