What We Have Learned
Major public health crises, like the COVID-19 pandemic, inflict a lot of damage. The lives lost and interrupted by this disease have exacted a terrible cost. If there is an unseen benefit of the pandemic, I hope it is that we have learned some important lessons about infectious diseases. Perpetuating some of our newly acquired health habits will decrease the impact of many of the most common illnesses on our lives.
In the beginning, before masks were recommended, before we even knew COVID traveled through the air, handwashing was the main mitigation recommendation. For many illnesses, handwashing and sanitizing is a great deterrent. I hope everyone continues to wash their hands as frequently and for as long as they did at the beginning of the pandemic.
Staying home when we are sick
In the past, calling out sick or missing a day of school due to illness may have been frowned upon. Now, I feel that teachers, bosses, and coworkers are more likely to respect a person for staying home when they feel ill. Getting better and not spreading an illness to others is far more important than anything else that could have been accomplished during the work or school day. COVID was serious enough to bring this concept to light, and I hope it has some staying power. Staying home when we are sick could actually bring down the total number of sick days for a company or school.
There is a well-established link between stress and illness. For many people, the pandemic created more stress than it relieved, for sure. For others, who were used to rushing from one event to the next, the pandemic provided some welcome down time. While some socializing is certainly good for us, some of us may have learned the benefits of rest. Knowing when to forego a social event in favor of some self-care could serve us well going forward.
If we have learned one thing about illness during COVID-19, it is how powerful vaccines are. I hope that the mass vaccination process we have undergone will inspire people to think about what vaccinations they may be missing. Getting the pneumonia and shingles vaccines, for instance, could save a lot of worry, hospitalizations, and medical costs.
If we had to have a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, I hope we can at least get some good lessons from it and let the things that we have learned improve our lives in the years to come.
Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.