Nobody expected 2020 to be consumed by a pandemic. When virus activity began in March, we assumed it would be temporary. We sheltered in place and figured we would resume normal activities within a few months. Here we are, six months later, and COVID-19 is still active in our community. In fact, the case numbers are not far from where they were when the virus peaked in Illinois. Still, the world is turning. More businesses are open again, some schools have resumed class and you even see kids playing in the park again. I asked Dr. Khare to explain how this could all be happening if the numbers are still high. Here’s what he had to say…
Q: If COVID-19 cases are still high, why are we able to resume activities and remain in phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan?
A: While the quantity of COVID-19 cases still may be over 1,000 per day in Illinois, the death rate is significantly lower than it was in the spring. Hospital stays are less common and fewer patients are on ventilators. The shutdown in the spring was partially driven by concern for our healthcare system. There was a point in time where few hospital beds were available and there was a shortage of ventilators for patients. Currently, that is not the case. As an emergency medicine physician, I’ve seen first hand how the protocols for treating COVID-19 patients have changed. Those changes have allowed us to curb the death rate.
Q: When will COVID-19 end?
A: Nobody has a clear answer for this. The best answer to this question is: when (or if) we get an effective vaccine, and when (or if) people get the vaccine and we gain herd immunity. If this does not occur, COVID-19 is here for the foreseeable future. This means we have to learn to live with it. Adjusting our lives by wearing masks, limiting our social activities and even sheltering in place again if that becomes necessary, is all part of that. It’s about choices. It’s not practical to be 100 percent risk-free. At the same time, your life should not look the same as it did pre-COVID. Find a balance that works for your family. Take this virus seriously, while also allowing yourself to enjoy activities that are low to medium risk as safely as you can.
Q: Is it safe to see friends and family? My friends are “over COVID” and I still feel the need to be cautious.
A: Everyone is “over COVID-19” at this point. How you handle that is key. This is not the time to let your guard down or throw caution to the wind. It is a time to find balance. Your emotional health is important, just like your physical health is important. Generally speaking, I tell patients that they should feel comfortable doing things to improve their emotional health. This might mean visiting with your closest friends. It could also mean taking a yoga class. How you do those things is what matters. A large group of friends with no distancing and no masks in an indoor space is very different from a small group who remain outdoors. Likewise, an indoor yoga class in a small studio is very different from an outdoor class in a park. Look at the big picture. Are you taking precautions most of the time or are you being “safe” only half of the time? COVID-19 will be active for well over a year. We must learn to live with it and do our best to keep ourselves, and our families, safe. Striving for perfection will only create anxiety. Find balance.
Q: Will flu season and winter worsen COVID-19?
A: Flu season will add to concern about COVID-19 because the symptoms are similar. This means there will be more possible cases to test and more quarantines at schools and businesses. Winter weather will also lead to more time spent indoors, which can in fact heighten the spread of the virus. The months ahead will be more difficult than where we are currently. It’s possible that we’ll have to roll back to phase 3 and shelter in place again. Enjoy outdoor activities while the weather is nice. When the weather gets cold, stick with a tight group rather than socializing with everyone you know and continue to take precautions such as social distancing.
Q: What do I do if I experience possible COVID-19 symptoms?
A: Testing is much faster and easier than it was a few months ago. If you experience COVID-19 symptoms, get tested to be sure you are not unknowingly infecting others. Innovative Express Care offers COVID-19 testing seven days a week at 1111 W. Diversey Parkway. We are also opening a testing clinic in Downers Grove in October. Appointments are required, so we can continue to get patients in and out quickly. Visit www.innovativecovid.com for more information.