What information are you monitoring?
For accurate, real-time information about Coronavirus, I follow the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO). I also subscribe to the New York Times, and I get a “Coronavirus Briefing” each day. I read headlines from a variety of news sources around from coast-to-coast and around the globe (for example the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, the BBC). Because of my university affiliation and training, reading these headlines will oftentimes prompt me to look for the primary peer-reviewed source of information, which is not always accessible to the general public. As a best-practice recommendation for the public, it would be useful to follow the CDC at a minimum, and it would be useful to make sure that any information a person gets about the Coronavirus is from a credible news source.
What are your thoughts on “how much time” we should all give to this matter in our daily lives?
Unfortunately, this pandemic is all-consuming and can feel like it is taking all of our time. The news is important, and at the same time is highly traumatic. It is okay to take a break from Radio or TV, reading news headlines, and especially from social media to preserve our mental health. That being said, it still is really in our best interest to be engaged with critical updates. I say “critical” because they really are just that. Scientists are working tirelessly to understand the pathology of COVID-19, and what is known to be true today might be directly contradicted by new evidence the next day. If a person stays informed by checking for critical updates on the CDC daily, this can be a useful way to be knowledgeable about the unfolding crisis. Yet people should take time to enjoy other aspects of their lives.
What are your thoughts about current recommendations for Social Distancing
and Safe at home edicts?
Social distancing and “safe at home” are absolutely critical in this window of time for preventing serious illness and loss of life, and to minimize the potential overload on our health systems. We all need have as few interactions as possible with people with whom we do not reside.
I work with college students, and a useful analogy that might work for most adults is to reflect on what we learned in health education in high school about unprotected sexual encounters. The same exact principle applies. With C-19 we’re talking about people simply interacting with us in close proximity. When we interact with these people, we bring home to our family (even though our family stayed home) the interactions of all those people too. This is why I don’t interact with family outside of my home or friends at all, and I will not for the foreseeable future. My family is fortunate not to have anyone who has to work in an essential service right now, so to even further limit our exposure – we’re not even going to the grocery store. Instead, we order about a week ahead and have our groceries delivered. We are fortunate to have this option.
From a psychology perspective, people might not perceive the full risk of contracting COVID-19. As a scientist, I wish I had a surefire way to convince folks just how dangerous COVID-19 is for them and their families, and how important it is to slow the spread. Unfortunately, there is no surefire way.
In what ways is getting outdoors still a good idea?
It is really critical that we take care of our physical and mental health, which of course are interlinked. Fresh air, sunshine, and exercise are all helpful in that regard. Scientists know that it is critical for people to stay a minimum of 6 feet away from each other. This may mean that if a person is walking – then crossing the street to avoid crossing paths with a neighbor truly is more polite at this time than getting close enough to say “hello”. I put that word minimum in italics because some evidence has suggested that if a person is breathing heavily or projecting their voice – then they could be projecting the virus too, and more than 6 feet of distance may be ideal. So, avoid places that have a lot of people. In my mind, I assume that each person I encounter could be infected – and so could I. This way of thinking drives me to stay as far as I can from others.
To that end, the CDC recommends that people wear face coverings when social distancing. I know this is difficult. The idea is that people will not be prevented from getting COVID-19 by wearing face coverings, but that people who are infected and are not symptomatic, that it to say they don’t feel sick or look sick, may avoid spreading the virus by wearing a mask. Another important consideration about going outside is that since we know that the virus can live on certain surfaces for a long time – is really important not to go to the playground or to use common benches and so on in public places.
There’s a lot to consider about going outside. A person might not feel safe going outside, and then it might be necessary to find in-door exercises for physical and mental health.
* * * * * * * * * *
Dr. Sasha Karnes (Assistant Professor)
Dr. Karnes completed a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Health Psychology, and a Doctorate in Health Science at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee prior to joining the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 2013. Her research interests are in disease prevention and health promotion. Specific research activities include the development and testing of web-based programming to increase health behaviors such as physical activity. Dr. Karnes teaches general coursework in psychology, and plans to assist with development of courses emphasizing health psychology.