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As COVID cases rise, so does pandemic fatigue

As seen in the Maui News, Viewpoint..

As COVID cases rise, so does pandemic fatigue

Nine months into this pandemic, COVID is no longer a mysterious new disease. We’ve learned how to protect ourselves, and we now know that things like wearing masks, washing hands, staying six feet apart, and avoiding gatherings will keep us and our loved ones safe. So why is the virus still spreading?

It comes down to pandemic fatigue. Simply put, people are tired of COVID. We’re tired of wearing masks, the frequent hand washing, and not being able to gather with family and friends. After all this time, it’s tempting to start letting things slide just a little bit.

But just because we’re done with COVID doesn’t mean COVID is done with us. The virus is still in our community. And if we let down our guard now, we’re going to see another surge, just like the Mainland is seeing right now.

The fact is, most of the new cases of COVID on the islands aren’t coming from tourists, but from local residents gathering with family and friends. This is understandable. After all, it’s easy to get complacent around the people we love. But remember that just because you know someone doesn’t mean they’re safe from COVID. Maybe your family member is taking precautions, but they work with someone who isn’t. During COVID, you’re not just exposed to the person you’re having direct contact with, you’re exposed to everyone they’ve been in contact with as well.

Pandemic fatigue is real, and we need to be proactive and find a way to give ourselves a break — safely — so that we can continue this fight for the long haul.

Everyone needs to take time off from wearing a mask, so plan ahead to give yourself some relief. Go for a swim in the ocean or play with your kids in your backyard without your masks. These two activities can help you enjoy some mask-free time outdoors while following state and county rules about mask wearing. When it is safe to do so, incorporate some mask-free time into your week and it’ll be a little easier to keep it on when you’re at work or at the store.

It’s also natural to feel lonely and crave social interaction. Be proactive and plan safe ways to connect with people. Meet a friend outside for a socially distanced walk. Use video conferencing to schedule catch-up time with your loved one. Have a virtual game night with your family. By connecting in a safe way, it’ll be easier to stay home and avoid gatherings where you could put you and your loved ones at risk.

One of the toughest issues we deal with during this time is family and friends who don’t understand why we’re avoiding gatherings. There can be a lot of pressure to go along with the crowd, and we may be worried about hurting people’s feelings if we stay home or cancel our usual plans.

When this happens to me, I try to talk about the reasons why I’m taking precautions. I work in healthcare, so I remind my friends that I have a responsibility to be careful, so I don’t bring the virus into the hospital. That means I’m going the extra mile to be safe.

Your reasons might be different. You might have a job as an essential worker, be the primary caregiver for you kids, or have a family member who’s at high risk of complications from COVID. When you explain why you’re taking precautions and being safe, most people understand.

There’s one other place where we’re starting to see pandemic fatigue, and that’s attitude. People are getting frustrated, and sometimes they lash out. Some blame tourists for bringing COVID to the islands or treat healthcare workers with suspicion and accuse them of spreading the virus. We’ve seen lots of nasty comments and disagreements on social media. The bottom line is, it doesn’t really matter how COVID got here, because it is here now and we’re all responsible to keep it from spreading. And spreading anger and negativity won’t improve the situation.

It’s been a long nine months, and we still have a long way to go. This is a marathon, not a sprint, but we’ll get there. By taking care of ourselves and each other, fighting pandemic fatigue, and continuing to take the precautions we know work, our community can get through this crisis stronger than ever.

* Michael Shea is chief medical director at Maui Health.