The current state of the COVID-19 vaccine
Re-entering the workplace
Effects on mental health and substance use
Re-entering social situations
Effects on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities
Effects on kids' mental health
Effects on physical health
Getting back on track with healthy living
Watch "The Way Forward" on YouTube
As the number of Americans vaccinated against COVID-19 increases daily, we see more and more states inch closer toward total reopenings. Businesses, travel and large events are once again ramping up as they did pre-pandemic. With this comes renewed hope but also many questions about navigating through all aspects of life: What will our workplaces look like? Will telehealth still be an option? How can we ease anxieties and worries after more than a year of isolation?
These are just a few questions that leading Washington state doctors, researchers, public officials and other experts will answer below about the long-term impacts of the pandemic on our society.
"The Way Forward: Navigating Next Steps" is sponsored by Premera.
The current state of the COVID-19 vaccine:
While life is slowly phasing back to normal, we're not out of the woods just yet.
According to Dr. Ali Mokdad with the University of Washington, we can expect a surge in coronavirus cases this winter. However, because of the vaccine, we are not expecting a rise in hospitalizations. Currently, nearly 60% of Washingtonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
This is good news, but not great, which is why the medical community is laser-focused on those who are hesitant to get the vaccine. Dr. Vin Gupta from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation said 50% of the population is vaccinated and believes the majority of those who are not can be convinced. Those who are skeptical of the vaccine have answerable questions – many of which stem from misinformation online.
“We have to address this. We have to ask people when you get a piece of information, don't look at who sent it to you. Look at where it originated and what is behind it,” Mokdad said. “And that's very important for all of us to do.”
Re-entering the workplace:
For nine-to-fivers across the country, one of the biggest lifestyle readjustments will be heading back into the office. This reality has some adults nervous to return to old routines.
"Well, we're going to need to be really flexible about thinking about our workspaces as we move forward,” Jamie Teevan, chief scientist for Microsoft’s experiences and devices said. “And actually, you see, something like two-thirds of businesses are actually reconfiguring their spaces for hybrid work. So there's a lot of thinking that we're going to need to do. The big challenge is we don't know what it's going to look like.”
To succeed in and out of our workplace, Dr. Vin Gupta from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation said mental health care must be paramount. Providing or embedding access to therapy and mental health services in the workplace or a virtual environment is going to be needed now more than ever.
“Re-acclimating to normal life, it's going to be hard for some people. It's going to be really hard,” he said. “So, we need to anticipate those challenges.”
Effects on mental health and substance use:
The pandemic has had detrimental effects on many people's mental health. Alcohol and marijuana sales have gone up approximately 70%, and it is estimated that 3 million Washington citizens will have an acute mental health or substance abuse disorder within the next several months.
“It’s still going on, even though we’re relaxing some of the masks, and things are starting to open up,” said Lisa Rogers, senior manager of Sound Health SUD services. “There’s still a huge unemployment rate. People are really self-medicating.”
Those with mental health issues may turn to alcohol and/or drugs to feel better, including methamphetamines and marijuana. But when you mix mental health issues and substances, it can have dangerous effects.
There is help. Behavioral health organizations all over the Puget Sound area are accepting patients, both in-person and virtually. Rogers says one of the most important things we can do as a loved one of a person battling substance abuse is to reduce the stigma of discussing it so that those affected feel comfortable getting help.
Re-entering social situations:
After more than a year of wearing a mask, keeping a distance and staying home, socializing with other people again might feel a little overwhelming. Luckily, there are steps you can take to help you feel better about getting back out in public.
University of Washington psychologist Jonathan Kanter says some people may need to re-learn how to socialize, but they will get back into it quickly. As for combating anxiety, Kanter says breathing and telling ourselves we can do it will help.
Effects on Asian American and Pacific Islander communities:
The pandemic has challenged people from all walks of life. But it has been especially hard on certain communities, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
"Around the same time that the pandemic started, there was also very much negative messaging around how it's connected to Asian people," said Michael Byun, executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service.
On top of the suffering and tragedy of the pandemic, he said the AAPI community had a rapid increase in racism and bias against them. NBC News reported racial attacks against Asian Americans have doubled since the start of the pandemic, from about 4,000 incidents in March 2020 to nearly 7000 in March 2021.
Lindsey T.H. Jackson, founder of LTHJ Global, says that racism and oppressive thinking are taught.
"We now understand enough about the brain to say, 'If I can be taught to fear something, I can also be taught to unlearn that fear,'" she said.
So where do we begin?
"First, we have to help the individual understand how they are hurt and hurting so that they can begin the healing process and so that they can stop enacting that hurt to other people," Jackson said.
Effects on kids' mental health:
“Families are facing all of the challenges that they’ve had forever, which is struggles with anxiety and symptoms of depression, traumas, disruptive behaviors and tantrums,” said Dr. Alexandra Boeving Allen, Brightline's head of therapy and VP clinical strategy. She says the pandemic is a trauma in its own right, which not only exacerbates pre-existing conditions but can also create new stress responses.
If you intervene in the right ways at the right time, treatment and coaching can help tremendously. It’s also important to maintain connection and routine during the pandemic in any way possible, even if it’s just with immediate family.
“I would just urge a slight reframe for parents who are feeling anxious that the lasting effects really can be mitigated by intervention early on,” Allen said.
Tantrums and feeling sad or worried are normal. When these feelings and experiences start to impact a child’s ability to function, it’s time to seek help from a licensed professional.
Effects on physical health:
If you've been putting off going to the doctor amidst the pandemic, you're among many. However, health care experts are now urging that you start booking those appointments – and sooner rather than later.
Dr. Steven Jacobson, the medical director at Premera, says many of us have neglected wellness checks, appointments for chronic conditions and even necessary vaccines (not including the COVID-19 vaccines). On the other hand, many doctors and patients have embraced the emergence of telehealth, which providers plan to keep using for certain visits even after pandemic-related restrictions lift.
Getting back on track with healthy living:
When it comes to healthy eating and fitness routines, many people are looking to form new habits or re-form habits that may have been lost during the pandemic.
Stephen Hitt of Crossfit Industrious shares some tips for starting fresh:
- Stay away from popular “fad” diets. They’re often not sustainable and can lead to a scarcity mindset.
- Focus on an abundance mindset and remember consistency is key. Add in fruits and vegetables to your diet, and avoid skipping meals.
- The abundance mindset and gradual changes can help you get started without immediately putting you in a restriction or scarcity mindset.
As for fitness, Hitt says the key is to start small. Everyone is coming into their fitness journey at a different place, so take into account where you are and don’t do too much too soon.
“I do recommend choosing an environment that you feel is going to both motivate you and keep you safe,” Hitt said. “And an environment that you feel you can connect with.”
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