COVID-19 lockdowns are easing across the U.S., and there is a lot to process as these restrictions begin to end and transition.
What is the new safe? Can we return to the gym? Can we schedule regular medical appointments again? What should we include on our post-quarantine list of health practices? And if you forged some new habits or rediscovered old hobbies while staying at home, should you consider making those part of your new normal routine?
As the world begins to recover from some of the unfortunate consequences of the pandemic such as shuttered businesses, lost jobs, and social-distancing, there have been some positive changes, too.
More than before, people are spending more time outdoors in the sunshine. Almost everyone I know has picked up a new exercise habit. People are spending more time with their families, bringing people together and making interpersonal bonds stronger.
So perhaps the first thing to do is decide which of the new habits will you keep, and maybe you'll decide to keep them all.
The next step is to put together a list of your health priorities. To do this, you'll need to understand your own risk for contracting COVID based on your age and particular issues. Then make sure that you know your local data - know the COVID rates in your area, and understand any new trends such as an increase in new cases. Pay attention to what experts are counseling people to do in your area with respect to your own care.
Here's a helpful list with some annotations:
1. If you've missed medical appointments, testing, or treatments, it's time to reschedule any missed procedures or screenings, especially high-priority ones. Most likely your health care providers have already or will soon begin to see patients in their offices.
As an article in the American Heart Association News mentions:
In a recent report, 16 North American cardiovascular societies issued guidance for health professionals on safely reintroducing diagnostic tests and invasive cardiovascular procedures, with an eye to regions with lower rates of infection.
The pandemic has taken a toll on cardiovascular care, said cardiologist Dr. Robert Harrington, chair of the department of medicine at Stanford University in California. He co-authored the report as president of the American Heart Association.
"We've seen a large drop-off in patients seeking acute care for suspected heart attacks and strokes. There's been a decrease in more elective procedures such as exercise testing, cardiac catheterization and other procedures. Anecdotally, we also hear of people having worsening symptoms at home, with a reluctance to seek care for issues such as heart failure management."
The new report goes on to highlight the need for cardiologists to prioritize procedures or screenings with the most benefit for the most people in an attempt to "balance the risk of further care postponement against the risk of further spreading COVID-19."
Other medical provider organizations such as the American Cancer Society are also in favor of resuming cancer screenings and exams in the hopes people will be able to work with their health providers to take into account their own personal situations.
2. Get back in touch with your primary care provider to let them know how you've been and if there have been any changes in your health. Update your doctor on any ongoing conditions, and most especially, if you've had COVID-19.
Interestingly enough, your primary care provider may be a great source of local COVID data and be able to balance your personal health vulnerability against local COVID-19 infection trends to determine whether and when to pursue in-person visits for routine care such as vaccinations and dental checkups.
3. Get back to regular exercise & try to lose any bad habits you may have picked up.
Hopefully, you haven't gone back to smoking, but some have. Maybe it's some extra wine, but no matter what the habit, now is a good time to take an inventory and start formulating your exit strategies. For many, however, the worst habit developed during this long period of quarantine was once again staying on the couch instead of moving our bodies. That may be the easiest exit strategy to plan: time to get up off the couch and get back to it.
4. Set some goals and follow-through check-ins.
The new normal, post-COVID reality is still very much the same as the old normal, pre-COVID world. Your health priorities are still to eat healthfully, exercise, manage your stress, and pay attention to your mental health. The things that worked before to achieve those goals still work. Exercise, meditation, yoga, etc. all work to promote both physical & mental well being.
5. Don't forget to maintain personal protective precautions.
It's still important to assess the risks of every return. Whether it's the gym or a physician's visit, you must use the same amount of pragmatism and caution. Don't forget that in all situations, you must continue to observe the proper social distancing and masking when near others as well as always remembering to maintain good hand hygiene.
Dr. Mark L. Meyer received his M.D. from the Yale University School of Medicine and his J.D. from Yale Law School. He has a private cardiology practice in Manhattan.