How to deal with the COVID-19 pan(dem)ic

​Hi everyone, there are a couple of things I want to chat about this week in the midst of what seems like the world turning upside down due to the COVID-19 panic. I understand that this situation is very stressful and I want to give you some information about what’s happening and what you need to do to keep yourself and others safe.

​I wrote an article several weeks ago with some more detailed information about the novel coronavirus, but obviously since then the situation has become a lot more serious. (You can check that article out at http://www.since1872.ca/active-sections/3-opinions/what-is-the-coronavirus-and-should-i-be-worried/.)

Viruses are non-living particles that infect hosts by inserting their DNA into their cells and “hijacking” them in order to reproduce, since viruses do not contain the biological machinery required to replicate themselves.

The symptoms of COVID-19 infection include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and pneumonia. If you experience these symptoms and believe you may be infected with the coronavirus, DO NOT GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. Isolate yourself within your living quarters as quickly as possible and call Tele-Care at 811 in order to determine if you should get tested for the virus and to receive further instructions.

As of March 19, there are 736 confirmed cases and 34 probable cases in Canada, including some in New Brunswick. These numbers will likely become outdated immediately, so if you would like to check out the epidemiology for yourself visit Canada.ca/coronavirus.

​Currently, the spread of the COVID-19 infection is on an exponential curve, meaning that the number of infected individuals increases exponentially every day. However, public health officials say this exponential curve can be diminished by practicing social distancing. This is probably a term you’ve heard floating around in the last week or two, and it means avoiding public spaces and generally limiting your movement outside of your home. By limiting your movement, you are doing two things: decreasing your chances of coming in contact with the virus and decreasing the chances that you’ll pass it along to someone else.

As students in the 18-to-25 age range, this is particularly important because even though our age demographic is one of the lowest risk in terms of coronavirus mortality, we need to do our part to maintain the herd immunity in our community.

​Herd immunity is typically viewed as a preventative strategy, largely through the use of vaccinations. It is the concept of protecting those in the “herd” that are at the most risk and are unable to protect themselves; in the case of the coronavirus, those most at risk are individuals who are immunocompromised (for example, individuals with cancer, diabetes, AIDS, malnutrition or other conditions that inhibit the immune system) and elderly people. There is not an available COVID-19 vaccine to date (although several are currently undergoing clinical trials), so herd immunity can be maintained in this pandemic by practicing social distancing. Distance yourself from large gatherings of people (yes, this includes parties and the bar), public transportation, movie theatres, restaurants, gyms or anywhere else where your risk of coming in contact with a large number of people is high.

​Lastly, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the inevitable spike in stress we are all experiencing as a result of this pandemic and the cancellation of classes and exams for the remainder of the semester.

To take care of your mental health during these tough times, my first tip is to think about and separate what you can control from what you cannot. Currently, there are a lot of aspects of the pandemic you can’t control, but you can control how you respond, including practicing social distancing, washing your hands often and taking care of your academics for the remainder of the semester. When feeling stressed out, do what helps you feel safe – which may be different from what makes others feel safe. If this includes social distancing, be cognizant of whether your desire to isolate is based on the potential for sickness or if it may be part of a depressive episode. If it is the latter, reach out to some friends and know that you’re not going through this alone.

Another tip is to get outside, talk a walk, soak up some vitamin D, get a little exercise… and the best part? This can be done even if you are practicing social distancing, as long as you avoid crowded areas. Challenge yourself to stay in the present and try not to project today’s worries onto what will happen in the future. Now would be a great time to start practicing mindfulness to stay grounded when things feel out of your control – it can be as simple as taking a deep breath and noticing one thing you can see, one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, one thing you can hear and one thing you can taste.

And last but certainly not least, stay connected to your support system and reach out when you need to. If you are struggling with anxiety or mental health, you can reach out to mental health professionals (Mt. A Counselling Services: 506-364-2163, CHIMO 24/7 Helpline: 1-800-667-5005, Crisis Text Line: 686-868).

​If you have further questions, feel free to email me at healthintern@mta.ca or covid19@mta.ca. Remember to WASH YOUR HANDS, and call 811 if you have any health concerns or suspect you may have come in contact with the coronavirus. Stay healthy, friends!

Rachel McDougall
Rachel McDougall is a contributor to the Argosy.