Here are key takeaways from KET’s April 24 program on the spread of coronavirus-19 disease, called COVID-19, in Kentucky. The show examined the steps public health leaders in Kentucky require in order to reopen the state’s economy and also offered tips for maintaining good mental health during the crisis.
Public Health Benchmarks to Ensure Kentuckians’ Safety
Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear announced a plan to gradually reopen Kentucky’s businesses and ease social distancing requirements in accordance with a set of guidelines issued by the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force.
Dr. Steven Stack, M.D., Kentucky’s commissioner of public health, discussed the state’s criteria for allowing businesses to open their doors.
- Number and ratio of positive COVID-19 cases must decrease
Dr. Stack says that from an epidemiological standpoint, state officials will need to determine that the initial peak of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky has ended. Cases will need to decline over a 14-day period. “You’ve already hit your peak, and you’re seeing the disappearance of the disease, or the decrease in the population,” he says.
- Increasing testing and contact tracing capacity
Kentucky’s Department for Public Health will work with local public health departments to establish an efficient system for identifying persons infected with COVID-19 and then those they have interacted with.
“We’ve done this before, it’s not a new concept, but the challenge here is we have a disease that can affect the entire population that spreads very easily and for which we don’t any have treatments or immunizations right now that have been proven effective,” he says. “So we’re going to have to do this at a scale that we’ve not done before.”
- Maintaining social distancing even after businesses reopen
“This is a new normal,” Dr. Stack says. “The only way to keep ourselves safe and to minimize the human harm caused by the disease is to work to minimize the spread. And we have to do that by keeping a six-to-10 foot distance between ourselves. And you’re going to notice in the future, out in the public at least, more of those cloth face coverings.
“I don’t really see it as an intrusion on people,” he continues, “I see it as those things we all need to do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.”
- Increasing personal protective equipment (PPE) capacity
Dr. Stack says that when hospitals and clinics start scheduling visits and elective procedures again they will need to have enough PPE to cover their needs based on the new, stricter policies that will require this equipment being used to treat patients.
“In some settings, one week may be enough, but in an acute care hospital it’s probably like a two-week supply or perhaps more,” he says. “Everyone has to be able to get their own PPE by their normal purchasing methods.”
- Ensuring the ability to protect at-risk populations
Persons over age 60 and/or those with chronic health problems are at the highest risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19, Dr. Stack says. Even after businesses begin to reopen and many people go out to work and to engage in other activities, Dr. Stack cautions that those higher-risk groups will still need to stay isolated as much as possible.
“Then, over time, I really do hope that those antibody tests will get to a better place so we can find out people who have been infected, and hopefully people who have immunity,” he says. “That will hopefully make it possible to, over time, relax some additional guidelines.”
- Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on social distancing for large gatherings
Dr. Stack believes that events with large crowds such as football games or the Kentucky Derby won’t be held in their usual way until a vaccine for COVID-19 has been developed and given to the entire population. That won’t occur until 2021 at the earliest, he says.
“Perhaps there will be events where we start to come up with ways athletes and others can provide for their sport, maybe without audiences and we watch it remotely,” Dr. Stack says. “I think a lot of that will be a work in progress.”
Helping Those with Mental Health During Isolation
Across the U.S., persons have quickly adjusted their daily lives in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and spent most of their time staying at home by themselves or with family members. This has significantly affected mental health, and a recent poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 47 percent of adults who were sheltering in place reported having negative mental health effects resulting from stress related to COVID-19.
Joseph D’Ambrosio, Ph.D., JD, LMFT, CSW, the director of wellness at the University of Louisville Trager Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, offered some tips to help people maintain good mental health during the coronavirus era:
- Create a new normal routine, and stick to it
Dr. D’Ambrosio advises viewers to craft a daily routine where you get up in the morning at the same time, go to bed at the same time, eat regularly and healthfully, and exercise.
He adds that if you’re working from home, don’t neglect personal time. “I find that myself and my colleagues, we’re on Zoom meetings for eight to 10 hours every day,” he says. “We really have to take time for ourselves during this period – we really have to work harder at it.”
- Don’t let depression build during the shutdown
“You can see, if a person looking really depressed, if sadness is overwhelming them, then family members need to step in,” Dr. D’Ambrosio says. “Feelings pass, they’re like clouds in the sky… but if that feeling stays with you, and it’s really a sad feeling, a depressing feeling, you need to seek help.”
Dr. D’Ambrosio says that the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 are available for those who are experiencing a mental health emergency.
- Reach out to others every day
Dr. D’Ambrosio says that he has noticed that even with social distancing, persons are conversing with neighbors and fellow members of their communities when they go out to buy essential goods. He stresses that folks need to keep up in-person connection whenever they get the opportunity, and that includes exploring ways to volunteer if possible.
“I always recommend calling people,” he adds. “Even if it’s for 15 minutes a day. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time – really try to reach out.”