Q: How long will this coronavirus pandemic go on? My doctor told me he removed a precancerous polyp last January, and wanted me to repeat a colonoscopy in one year, but I’m afraid of medical facilities, so I haven’t scheduled it, or any of my blood tests or annual exams.
A: It is unknown how long this pandemic will go on. So far efforts to contain the spread of the virus in the United States Have not been effective. The numbers of COVID positive cases (more than 2.4 million in the US), active infections, and hospitalizations continue to increase. Thousands have died.
Since there are asymptomatic COVID patients who may have already developed antibodies (transiently or otherwise), its possible the numbers may be 10 times higher.
In the meantime, new information about COVID-19 comes out every week as this very new virus is better understood.
Unfortunately, we still don’t have a vaccine, widespread testing, contact tracing, or compliance with preventative measures like social distancing and wearing masks in public (even with people who do not live in your household).
Re-opening bars and other high risk environments has accelerated the problem in some areas.
What to do in the meantime?
Many people have used the stay-at-home orders as an excuse to eat whatever they want, stop exercising, and increase habits such as smoking or drinking excessively. Given this is not a temporary situation, please don’t pretend like all other health concerns are no longer relevant since the emphasis is on COVID-19.
In fact, managing risk factors is even more important to avoid contracting COVID-19, or suffering complications if you do.
Risk factors like diabetes should be taken seriously. Keep your blood sugar in a healthy range and continue to follow up with regular virtual appointments with your doctor to monitor your medications and any necessary testing.
The pandemic is not an excuse to eat cookies and donuts!
Eat a healthy diet, limit sugar and simple carbohydrates, and monitor calories. Keep your weight down, preferably aim for a BMI of 25 (Google it). Obesity is a serious risk factor for COVID-19 as well, so diet and exercise are important.
High blood pressure has a significant risk for developing complications of COVID-19, so it is essential to keep your blood pressure in the normal range. Ask your doctor what your normal range is. It may surprise you to find out how low it should be.
Given that COVID-19 affects the kidneys, blood vessels, heart and increases risk of stroke, having a healthy blood pressure is very important. Check it regularly at home and follow up with virtual appointments per your doctor’s recommendation. Try the DASH diet.
Stop smoking! Smoking is another risk factor for COVID-19 complications, which obviously affects the lungs. But smoking also causes damage to the heart, blood vessels, circulation, and increases risk of stroke.
It makes no sense to continue smoking during the pandemic so use this opportunity to quit.
If you already have chronic lung disease or asthma, use your medications as directed. And keep any wheezing under control. If you are optimally medicated, you should be free of wheezing even at night (unless you have advanced disease).
Make regular virtual appointments with your doctor and let them know whether you are wheezing and how often you have to use rescue inhalers like albuterol.
If you have heart disease, it is important to take medications as prescribed and follow any diet recommended by your doctor. Ask your doctor about exercise recommendations. Report any symptoms or weight gain.
COVID-19 also affects the GI tract. Liver inflammation is a common symptom. Avoid excessive alcohol.
One symptom of COVID-19 is diarrhea.
In your case, talk to your doctor about your fears of scheduling the colonoscopy. Many elective procedures like this are done in COVID-19-free facilities where all patients have been screened two days-in-a-row before procedures (including you).
Talk to your doctor about any other tests or follow up appointments you are due for and follow his or her advice. Some may be done virtually.
Mental health is another big concern during a crisis like this, so keep in touch with your therapist, And take your medicines. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, or hopelessness, get a therapist. If you have suicidal thoughts, call 911. Calls to suicide hotlines are up by 50% during this pandemic. Domestic violence is also on the rise.
Most COVID-19 patients recover fully. But some people who have had COVID-19 infections may be surprised to have a symptoms after they test negative. Some have persistent fatigue, weakness, cough or lung problems, blood clotting problems, mental clouding, or other conditions.
So the best advise is avoid infection if possible, wear masks, socially isolate, wash hands often and take good care of your health.