Coping with ‘Normal’ after an Unsettling Year

March 25, 2021

The excitement at the prospect of getting back to a normal life started more than a year ago. But as the first few weeks of the pandemic stretched into months and the calendar went from 2020 to 2021, “normal” took on a new meaning.

Now we have effective vaccines, and millions of people have gotten doses. It looks like we might finally be coming out of this long nightmare.

But even if we were never infected, we’re not unaffected. We’ve lost friends and family. We know people who lost someone. We’ve heard stories of those who spent time on a ventilator. We’ve seen the news, lost jobs, our homes, and our schools. The trauma is everywhere.

The good news is no one has to face it alone.

woman at window

It’s Like a Disaster

Psychiatrists, researchers, and academics have been busy trying to anticipate people’s mental responses once the pandemic is over.

Using research on natural disasters as an example, at least 10% of people will develop mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those numbers could be much higher for those who contracted COVID-19.

In the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002, 44% of the patients surveyed developed PTSD even after recovery. Before SARS was contained, it infected 8,100 people globally while 774 died. COVID-19 has been much worse.

COVID-19 has resulted in more people being trapped at home, sometimes in abusive relationships or cramped housing. A number of medical and non-medical health care workers are also likely to develop PTSD.

Other effects could include:

  • COVID-19 Stress Syndrome — characterized by fear of infection, fear of foreigners who may be infected, constantly looking for COVID-19 information
  • Hikikomori — a syndrome where people become recluses and refuse to leave their homes
  • Germaphobia — it could be short-lived if COVID-19 is the cause
  • Hoarding — people may take to stockpiling supplies in anticipation of a recurrence

meditation

Ways to Cope

Many people may have difficulty changing back to a “normal” life. It’s hard to get back on a crowded bus, go into a bar, sit in a movie theater, or get used to being around maskless people in public. It’s ok to want to be cautious. Both the CDC and AltaMed recommend you continue to wear masks and practice distancing, even if you’ve been vaccinated.

If that sounds familiar, there are things you can do.

  • Acknowledge your feelings — You should take as much time as you need to adjust to changes. Just because friends and family may be rushing back to social activities, you don’t have to.
  • Listen to your anxiety — Which is causing you the most stress? Is it kids going back to school? Is it the idea of commuting to work? Address each issue one at a time.
  • Develop calming strategies — Get ready with ways to refocus yourself when you begin feeling anxious. Maybe you meditate, listen to music, go for a walk, or practice self-care.
  • Be intentional — Make plans for how things will look for you after the pandemic. Most anxiety comes from a lack of control. You can change that.
  • Share — You don’t have to bear it alone. Friends, family, and counselors, like those at AltaMed, can help you develop ways to adjust.
  • Set limits — You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. Take your time and let people know what you’re comfortable doing.

family talk

The Risk of Guilt

According to experts, a growing issue is the potential for survivor’s guilt. It is a complex form of grief that comes out of trauma.

The pandemic has been a traumatic experience that has killed nearly 3 million people around the world and infected over a hundred million more. The scale of the tragedy increases the likelihood that there will be survivor’s guilt.

Anyone is at risk, but it is more likely to affect those who:

  • Know someone who died from COVID-19
  • Know someone who had dealt with severe, long-term effects of COVID-19 complications
  • Think they put themselves at risk
  • Have pre-existing mental health conditions that make it difficult to cope with grief

Help Is Available

AltaMed’s experienced Behavioral Health team is staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish and are trained to help cope with the stressors related to COVID-19 and life after the pandemic. Short-term therapy is available, and we can connect members with mental health services if long-term therapy or other support is needed. If you or a loved one are experiencing grief and need support, there are resources available to you. Call us at (855) 425-1777 to get started.

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Don’t Lower Your Guard Against COVID, Even After Receiving the Vaccine

February 09, 2021

If you are one of the Los Angeles and Orange County residents who has received one of the three approved COVID-19 vaccines, you are not in the clear to resume life as usual just yet. While the vaccine provides much needed relief in the fight against coronavirus, these are some of the key reasons why we must remain vigilant against COVID-19:

  • No vaccine is 100% effective — One in 20 people can still get COVID-19 after the vaccine.
  • Vaccines don’t work instantly — It takes about two weeks for your immune system to be protected.
  • You can still spread the virus — Most vaccines prevent you from becoming sick but not from passing the virus to others if you become infected.
  • Masks protect others — People with other diseases are at a higher risk of becoming very ill if they get COVID-19.
  • Masks protect against new strains — Some are more contagious.

Waiting in Line

Remember, if you received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, two doses are required for your immune system to create enough antibodies to give you a greater than 95% chance of fighting off the virus. It is also important to complete your vaccine doses as close to the recommended interval as possible. According to the CDC, you have to wait at least 21 days before getting the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 28 days before getting the second dose of the Moderna vaccine. If you receive the second dose too soon, you won’t get the 95% protection rate. 

Only one dose is required of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Remember, you are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after you’ve received any one of the three vaccines. 

What Has Changed For Those Who Are Fully Vaccinated? 

  • You can gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask.
  • You can gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19
  • If you have been around someone who has COVID-19, you do not need to stay away from others or get tested unless you have symptoms. 
  • However, if you live in a group setting and are around someone who has COVID-19, you should still stay away from others for 14 days and get tested, even if you don’t have symptoms.

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What Has Not Changed?

For now, if you have been fully vaccinated:

  • You will still need to follow the following guidelines for businesses.
  • Wear your masks — Face masks to protect others.
  • Maintain hand hygiene — Use hand sanitizer to clean hands frequently, and wash hands for 20 seconds at a time. 
  • Practice physical distancing — Stay six feet apart from others whether inside or outside. 
  • Wipe down any surfaces you touch. 

For more information about the vaccine or testing, please visit AltaMed.org or call our vaccine hotline at (888) 909-5232.

What You Need to Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

December 17, 2020

As part of the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, health care workers and people at the highest risk of complications from the disease will begin receiving the vaccine. This is due to an incredible effort by pharmaceutical companies and the Food and Drug Administration to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective in protecting adults against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working closely with state and local health departments and other partners to develop plans to get the vaccine out. Other vaccines are in the approval process, so there is not just one COVID-19 vaccine.

What was the COVID-19 vaccine approval process?

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Many thousands of patients were given the COVID-19 vaccine in clinical trials. These trials are closely monitored research programs conducted with volunteers to see if a new drug or medical treatment is effective. The FDA approved the current vaccines because the research findings in the COVID-19 vaccine trials were proven to have minimal side effects and be highly effective in preventing COVID-19 in adults.

Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe?

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Vaccines approved by the FDA have been tested in more than 40 thousand volunteers. Side-effects were very mild and similar to the flu vaccine. The FDA is working with the health care community to monitor closely the reaction of those who have been vaccinated. With the information that we have currently, the vaccines have been evaluated as safe and can start protecting us and our community against COVID-19.

When can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Currently there is a limited supply available of the vaccines, and the first doses will go to health care workers and those with the most vulnerable immune systems. It will then be rolled out to different portions of the population in a fair, ethical, and transparent way. AltaMed is working closely with state and local health officials to ensure our patients have access to the vaccines as soon as possible.

How many shots will I need for the COVID-19 vaccine?

Most COVID-19 vaccines available in the first phase require a “booster” shot, or second shot, to get the entire benefit.

How much will it cost?

We don’t anticipate our AltaMed patients will need to pay for the vaccine. Administration of the vaccine may be charged to your health plan.

Where do I go to get the vaccine?

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Once the vaccine is more widely available, AltaMed will offer the vaccine to those who meet the priority criteria during each phase of the distribution process.

Will the vaccines give you COVID-19?

None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development in the United States use the live virus that causes COVID-19. Any response to the vaccine is a sign that the body is building immunity and learning how to fight the virus. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination, so it is possible that a person who was recently immunized could still get sick with COVID-19.

Do I need to get vaccinated if I have already had COVID-19?

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Re-infection with COVID-19 is possible, so people may be advised to get vaccinated even if they have been sick with COVID-19 before.
The immunity someone gains from having an infection, called natural immunity, varies from person to person. Some early evidence suggests natural immunity may not last very long.
We won’t know how long immunity produced by vaccination lasts until we have more data on how well it works.

How soon after getting vaccinated can I stop wearing a mask and staying physically distant?

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There is not enough information currently available to say if or when CDC will stop recommending that people wear masks and avoid close contact with others to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before making that decision.

AltaMed is Here for You

AltaMed doctors recommend getting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available to protect you and your family from getting sick. Getting vaccinated is one of many steps you can take to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Protection from COVID-19 is critically important because for many people, it can cause severe illness or death.

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available. Vaccines work with your immune system so your body will be ready to fight the virus if you are exposed.

Even after there has been widespread vaccination, for a while longer, we’ll still need to:

  • Wear a face covering
  • Wash our hands frequently
  • Maintain physical distance

As the situation changes, AltaMed will keep you informed.

AltaMed can provide information to you and your family about the best way to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19. To receive the latest news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, sign up today.