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Coronavirus (COVID-19): Fact finding, preventing stigma, coping, and talking to your kids about it.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), COVID-19, often referred to as the coronavirus, is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. This is especially true for older adults and those with severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes.

To protect yourself, the best things you can do for yourself include:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds

  • Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol

  • Refrain from touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick

  • Put distance between yourself and others if the virus is spreading in your area.

To protect others, the best things you can do include:

  • Stay home if you are sick

  • Cover coughs and sneezes

  • Throw used tissues in the trash.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

  • Wear a face mask if you are already sick. NOTE: do not wear a face mask if you are not sick unless you are caring for someone who is ill.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

  • Clean dirty areas.

Up-to-date information about COVID-19

Coping with COVID-19 Concerns

According to the Mental Health Association of America, when communities are affected by large scale disasters or threats, such as the COVID-19 virus, most people try to make sense of the experience and deal with the stress of the experience. These events can cause a significant amount of stress for everyone involved. People may experience a number of common reactions, including:

  • Disbelief and shock

  • Fear and anxiety about the future

  • Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating

  • Apathy and emotional numbing

  • Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event

  • Irritability and anger

  • Sadness and depression

  • Feeling powerless

  • Changes in eating patterns; loss of appetite or overeating

  • Crying for “no apparent reason”

  • Headaches, back pains and stomach problems

  • Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep

  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs

So how should we cope with these common reactions? First, know it is normal to have difficulty managing your feelings. Our experience of anxiety to a large threat is a normal reaction to a threat to our lives or way of living. However, it is essential for us to learn how to cope effectively with the experience. Some effective ways to manage the stress related to natural disasters or large threats to well-being include:

  • Talk about it with friends and family. Stay in touch by phone or other electronic media. Share your feelings and concerns.

  • Take care of yourself and practice physical and emotional self-care.

  • Limit exposure to images and reminders of COVID-19. Try to limit it to less than 30 minutes a day.

  • Don’t overestimate the threat. Take appropriate precautions as recommended (washing hands, limit social contact for the short term, etc.), but the media coverage of COVID-19 is likely to escalate a feeling of perceived danger.

  • Find time for activities you enjoy.

  • Take one thing at a time. “Checking off” tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment and make things feel less overwhelming.

  • Do something positive. Helping other people can give you a sense of purpose in a situation that feels ‘out of your control.’

  • Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking.

  • Avoid drugs and excessive drinking.

  • Ask for help when you need it. People who have existing mental health problems and those who have survived past trauma may also want to check in with a mental health care professional. Don’t try to cope alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

The CDC and the MHA have additional resources for coping with COVID-19

SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year, national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Stress, anxiety, and other depression-like symptoms are common reactions after a disaster.

Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Stigma and Public Health Emergencies

The CDC warns against stigma in the face of public health emergencies.

Public health emergencies, like this one, are stressful times for people and communities. Fear and anxiety about a disease can lead to social stigma toward people, places, or things. For example, stigma and discrimination can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease. Stigma can also occur after a person has been released from COVID-19 quarantine even though they are not considered a risk for spreading the virus to others.

  • Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger towards other people.

  • Stigmatized groups may be subjected to:

  • Social avoidance or rejection

  • Denials of healthcare, education, housing or employment

  • Physical violence.

Stigma affects the emotional or mental health of stigmatized groups and the communities they live in. Stopping stigma is important to making communities and community members resilient.

How to Talk To Kids About COVID-19

The Child Mind Institute has created a video to help parents and other adults talk to children about COVID-19

Some specific advice can be found here and summarized:

  • Don’t be afraid to discuss COVID-19

  • Be developmentally appropriate

  • Take your cues from your child

  • Deal with your own anxiety

  • Be reassuring

  • Focus on what you are doing to stay safe

  • Stick to a routine

  • Keep talking

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has also created a parent/caregiver guide to cope with COVID-19

They also have created guidance for child-serving organizations on social media messaging related to disasters.

The National Association for School Psychologists also has created content about talking with children about COVID-19.

Our Erie County Health Department also has content following up-to-date information on the COVID-19 situation:

Charlotte Berringer, R.N., is the director of community health services for the Erie County Department of Health, answered questions on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, about what residents of Erie County should know about COVID-19 in our area.

We will continue to update information as we have it to help keep Erie informed.

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