COVID-19 emerged as a new frightening and dangerous respiratory virus with many deaths due to a lack of immunity and natural protection.
The deadly virus has had a devastating impact globally and taken an enormous toll on the lives of vulnerable individuals and communities. As with any natural or human-made disasters, a time comes for gradual containment, mitigation, rebuilding, healing of wounds, and revelation of deeper truths and knowledge to ensure a better and safer future.
Scientists and citizens are waiting for the COVID-19 pandemics to subside. There is hope for viral control with vaccines or antiviral drugs. Even when a significant reduction in infections occurs, there remains the fear that the viral agent will reappear in another wave. So there is much hope that effective and safe vaccines and antiviral drugs will become available soon.
The process of reopening the country began with bravado by some and great reluctance and caution by others.
The combination of legitimate worries and fear, and the divisive nature of our current leadership and partisan politics, have hindered the type of hoped-for progress and positive remedial steps. Mixed attitudes and conflicting responses have been commonplace in our communities. The present major economic crisis is comparable with the worst worries that appeared during our country’s great depression. Everyday fears are about basic things as putting food on the table or of unemployment where there wouldn’t be the money to support one’s self or family.
Lack of unifying leadership and loss of the needed focus on the significant problems of our population continues to lead to increased division and partisanship.
Those with fewer opportunities have felt increasingly marginalized and discriminated against by those seen as the holders of power and economic advantage. The results have led to the breakdown in civil discourse and widespread protests and marches in the streets. A significant trigger has been the death of black citizens by the misuse of lethal force by the involved law enforcement officers. Video and media coverage has displayed the insidious and systemic problems persisting in our society of racial and minority inequality and issues within the institutions responsible for public safety.
Many issues have led to the pent up anger, as noted above, including the long existence of racism and discrimination against blacks, minorities, and immigrants in this country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the disproportionate death rate of individuals in the predominantly minority communities, lack of healthcare resources, and economic disadvantages - compared to more prosperous and privileged communities - has fueled the growing discontent.
As anger and fear grow, it becomes easier to manipulate or take advantage of those susceptible to propaganda, false messaging – misinformation – by unscrupulous people as unethical leaders, political opportunists, and some business entities that want to gain power or control of their supporters or base. Convenient scapegoats, people, or situations to blame are found and promoted by false information, contrite lies, or conspiracy theories. Academics, scientists, adversaries, or competitors in political venues can become the targets of the bullies, despots, politicians, or political movements.
The corrupt political strategy in a crisis like COVID-19 is to promote, propagandize, and use false information to drive fears and gain support and followers. The public gets more divided as the fear of infection, and death intensifies. The situation of trying to resolve the many systemic problems become increasingly difficult as more people become swayed by the propaganda from special interest groups that are looking for an advantage in a crisis. Individuals at risk for being influenced are, for example, encouraged to throw caution to the wind, to become rebellious, and to flaunt social norms.
The safe reopening of society and our economy gets inadvertently sabotaged. People encouraged not to follow public health guidelines, as in social distancing and the need to wear face masks, illustrates the results of contrary political motivated persuasions. The result is the lack of coherent, unified actions and remedial solutions, leading to further division and disunity. The only benefit is to the narrow-minded segment of our population that seeks power and opportunity in a time of crisis.
The pandemic will come to an end as soon as there are effective vaccines and antiviral drugs, which could be the end of the year. It is hard to predict. When people can resume their work, recreational, social, and consumer activities, the economy, probably then, will slowly recover. When a more significant percentage of the population developed antibodies to the infection by exposure – herd immunity will grow so that the virus has fewer people to infect.
With recovery and time, people often forget, especially the lessons learned from the crisis, and go back to behaviors present before the disaster.
Many of the actions that people will return to are often precisely the same factors that created the vulnerability for the pandemics in the first place. Increased risk for infection and severe illness are known to arise from poor health, adverse lifestyle, and nutrition that contribute to many chronic debilitating conditions that make people more susceptible to infectious agents.
The lack of social cohesiveness, cooperation, and mutual respect allows the development of significant division and partisanship. Tribal-like alliances cause the failure of a united response to crises. When unified and cohesive work at prevention and action occurs, the risk of future vulnerabilities to sickness and pandemic decreases. Paramount will be the ability of everyone to become better partners with nature and the environment to care for our planet and all fellow creatures.
At the level of individual action, there is the need for
improved personal healthcare, exercise, nutrition, lifestyles
lessening of obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.
Societal goals would be the working towards awareness to decrease or eliminate
economic disadvantage and income disparity
reduction of population density and overcrowding
equal access to community resources, healthcare, and jobs, especially in economically depressed areas
Global or geopolitical goals would be to reduce factors that contribute to
climate change and global warming
displacement of populations due to severe droughts, or mega-storms as hurricanes with coastal flooding
prevention of political conflicts, internally and internationally, wars that are as worse as natural disasters and pandemic, that bring displacement, pain, hardship, and suffering to large parts of the world’s population
Pandemics in the past is the source of much current scientific knowledge about the nature of infections and contagion.
Practical strategies have evolved to curb the spread, devastation, and high mortality caused by new appearing contagious agents. What our public health system knows about infectious diseases and hygiene has come out of the past scientific work and research on catastrophic occurrences as those caused by infectious agents. However, each new epidemic or pandemics is usually from a new pathogen or novel virus, and study in research and the creation of vaccines and medical treatments must focus on the new agent and often must begin anew. Science has progressed to the point where things can move along more rapidly.
So again, with recovery, the lessons learned, and the grief and mourning from the losses gradually pass. Sometimes the painful remembrance takes generations, or as long as they’re any reminders of the tragic circumstances of the pandemic devastation.
There now is an appropriate focus by everyone on finding a safe and effective vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.
The heroic search for a vaccine is reminiscent of the polio epidemic in the past - see article COVID-19 & Polio Past. As time passes, unfortunately, there are individuals or groups of people that do not use available vaccines. There are numerous reasons cited by individuals for not using the vaccine recommended by the medical, science, and public health community. Some of the concerns may have merit, but often refusals are based on false or exaggerated misinformation.
Non-use of recommended vaccines can lead to the recurrence of contagion and severe consequences for the vulnerable, as seen in recurrences in some areas of measles, smallpox, and polio. Unfortunately, with the current politics, there could occur more rapid nonuse of the COVID-19 vaccine once developed with partisanship-driven anti-science attitudes and promotion of disregard for public health and scientists‘ recommendations, as was seen with social distancing and the wearing of masks. I can see where this would soon translate into people or groups of people not using the vaccine for various reasons, whether it is driven by ignorance or by propaganda by those that want to gain political power, authority over others, or for whatever reasons there might be.
With a new vaccine, the followed-through with getting vaccinated, especially when seeing that it might not be 100% effective, might get more magnified with each successive year of the control of the virus. A growing number of non-users of the vaccine can contribute to a much high contagion rate of the infection. There are many people now that will use the vaccines in the short run but may quickly begin to refuse it in the future for many different reasons.
I noted in hospitals work that there is often is a policy to protect the vulnerable patients, staffing levels, and healthcare workers by requiring all employees to be vaccinated for the flu every year. If individuals for different reasons can't or won’t do the vaccine, then they are required to wear masks while in the hospital.
The current sentiment against public health measures to protect the population and to decrease the spread of infection is driven, in my opinion, by politics, ignorance, and personal attitudes. People not adhering to public health guidelines, as social distancing and the use of masks, compromise and put at risk the vulnerable in our population. These sentiments and attitudes against following public health recommendations, again, may come into play with people deciding not to use the vaccine for COVID-19, especially after a year or two of its availability and the decreasing of the infection rates.
More attention to how to protect the most vulnerable in our populations, as people in nursing homes, inner-city communities, minorities, and other high-risk individuals, will lead to new public health policies and interventions. The susceptibility to infection, disability, and death are disproportionately high in minority populations where many health affecting factors as poor nutrition, obesity, diabetes, and smoking is more prevalent. With so many high-risk individuals, including frontline and healthcare workers, there may be more incentive and motivation to follow medical, public health and science recommendations. The hope would be for improved health practices and the use of the vaccine once it is developed, found to be safe, and successful in preventing the disease or recurrences.
Catastrophes also lead to a marked increase in the need for mental health services: trauma-related illness, mood disorder as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
It has been reported from the experience of other pandemics and environmental catastrophes, that at least half of the population experience anxiety, depression, and post-trauma conditions. Suffers from preexisting mental health conditions, as anxiety-related conditions, depression, or substance abuse, will be at risk for worsening of their problems after the crisis has subsided. The public needs better education in regards to the signs and symptom recognition of mental health problems. There is a heightened need now for an increase in available mental health services, especially in underserved communities. Expanding mental health resources will more effectively assist with post calamity or pandemics COVID-19 related illnesses.
THE VALUABLE LEGACY OF COVID-19 WILL BE FROM THE:
NEW SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE GAINED FROM THE EXPERIENCE AND STUDY OF THE CURRENT VIRAL PANDEMIC
INCREASED PUBLIC AWARENESS ABOUT THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF OF IMPROVING HEALTH PRACTICES, LIFESTYLE, CARE OF OUR ENVIRONMENT, AND RESPECT OF EACH OTHER'S DIFFERENCES AND THE ELIMINATION OF RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION
POSITIVE CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS IN MEDICAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH PREPARATION AND STRATEGIES TO REDUCE THE IMPACT OR DESTRUCTIVENESS OF FUTURE GLOBAL HEALTH CRISES AS BEING EXPERIENCED NOW.
Thank you for your interest and review of this article. You are welcome to make comments below and to share this article with others.
Ron Parks MD
Consultation is available with Dr. Parks by telephone or telemedicine services. To schedule a session or if you need a question answered, fill in the contact form at https://parksmd.com/scheduling/.
**The above is for informational and educational purposes only, not as medical or mental health advice. It is the reader’s responsibility to direct personal medical or mental health questions to their primary care provider and specialty physicians. The information and statements contained in this material are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or to replace the recommendations or advice given to you by your primary or direct care providers.
Your reliance on any information provided by Dr. Parks is solely at your discretion. You are advised not to disregard medical advice from your primary or direct care providers, or delay seeking medical advice or treatment because of information contained in this article. Management of severe mental or physical health problems should remain under the care and guidance of your primary care physicians, specialist, or psychiatrists.
Lead-in photo for the article: © Benjamin Goode/123rf.com
REFERENCES & LINKS
The Mental Health Aftermath of COVID-19, Medscape Psychiatry Psychiatry, by John Whyte, MD, MPH; Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD; Laurel S. Mayer, MD
Potential for future dangerous hurricanes associated with climate change, the New York Times by Henry Fountain May 18, 2020
Epidemiologists weigh-in on personal concerns and risks related to COVID-19, "When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again" By Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui, The New York Times June 8, 2020
Five rules to guide you COVID-19 from the New York Times Coronavirus Briefing by Tara Parker-Pope June 9, 2020
Vitamin D Protection Against COVID-19, Medscape by JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH May 11, 2020
Typical Western Diet full of high fat, highly processed junk food filled with added sugar impact brain function and lead to overeating, obesity and related diseases from the Longevity Magazine Free E-Journal, June 8, 2020