Pandemic Perspective #38 January 2, 2021
Time to double down
I am usually an optimist but I’m deeply concerned about what we are facing in the first couple of weeks of this New Year. Public health authorities warned us that the surge in travel that began in the days before Christmas would result in a corresponding surge in coronavirus infections – and deaths. They were correct. On New Year’s Eve 585 Californians died, 62 of them in San Diego County, where 4478 new cases were recorded. These numbers are far higher than those we experienced earlier. Holiday travel is about to end but the effects of all that people movement will continue for most of this month. There has never been a more important time to lower your exposure to the virus.
Pandemic fatigue and frustration are fueling anger and resistance to burdensome restrictions. The hypocrisy of government officials at every level doesn’t help. Through all this however we need to maintain pandemic precautions. In the matter of COVID-19 vaccines I remain an optimist: by the start of summer the most vulnerable Americans and those responsible for caring for them will have received a vaccine. It’s critical for us to hang in until we get our turn.
I noted in previous posts that masks are only somewhat protective. In addition to that small but real benefit a mask is a reminder to follow other precautions. They do help to prevent the spread of infection, as noted in a recent meta-analysis and three other studies but masks only work if they are the proper type and are worn correctly. Single-layer cloth masks are virtually worthless and wearing even the best-quality mask won’t help if it sits below your nose, mouth or chin – as, I’m sure, many readers have observed in public places. In my daily visit to the (outdoor) fitness center such aberrant mask discipline is frustratingly common.
Think about all the ways by which you can minimize exposure to other persons, not just by maintaining that questionable six-foot spacing. Cut back on shopping trips. Stretch those trips out to 10-14 days, not every week. Go when traffic is lightest – early morning or late evening. If you are part of an at-risk group consider having groceries delivered at least sometimes, or have someone get your groceries or other necessities.
Take a walk most days of the week. Think of the benefits. Just getting out of the house is important and if you still work outside the home, park farther from your job than you used to. And don’t wear a hat so that you will get a dose of vitamin D by keeping your head and face exposed. For the next few months, forget the sunscreen. 15-20 minutes of sun exposure three or four times a week will not increase your risk of skin cancer. Check with your dermatologist if you have had skin cancer or you are of Scottish-Irish-English ancestry (or if my suggestion makes you uncomfortable!). If you live north of a line that connects Los Angeles with Atlanta your body’s ability to form vitamin D from sun exposure is almost zero. For that reason and because there is increasing evidence that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a poor outcome from COVID-19, researchers in that field strongly advise that everyone should take a minimum of 1,000 units (50 micrograms) of a vitamin D supplement every day.
There are two other reasons for walking and other types of exercise: physical activity boosts the immune system and also improves the function of your heart and lungs.
This coronavirus is going to circulate around the globe for years but as happened after the worst years of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, people, especially the media, will stop paying attention to it as the cases drop significantly.
Don’t let your guard down, especially now.