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Q: What is “pandemic fatigue”?

Early in the pandemic - March and April - people were very concerned and focused on protecting themselves from a relatively unknown virus, COVID-19. We were careful about wearing masks, and some people were even taking precautions like wiping down their groceries and mail before bringing it into the house. But after nine months, many people have grown tired of the constant vigilance. People are getting burned out, and they’re starting to let things slide a bit more. That’s what we mean when we talk about “pandemic fatigue.”

We’re concerned that pandemic fatigue is leading people to take fewer precautions to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19 and putting everyone at a higher risk of infection. That might mean going out in public without a mask, being less mindful about washing your hands, or deciding to attend a gathering with people outside your household. The different opinions and views on the pandemic and the way it has forced us to change the way we live may even be causing friction in your own family. People are getting frustrated with the restrictions.

Pandemic fatigue is dangerous, because if we all start letting our guard down, we will see another surge in infections on Maui, just like the mainland is seeing right now.
The burnout is real, but we can’t let up. It is important to maintain vigilance, but also important to give yourself a break from constant focus on this pandemic.

Plan to give yourself and your family some mask-free time. Go for a swim in the ocean or play with your kids in your backyard without your masks. Activities like these can help you enjoy some mask-free time outdoors while following state and county rules about mask wearing. Make sure you’re scheduling plenty of time to socialize safely, like connecting with loved ones over video chat, or meeting a friend for a masked walk in the park. And practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthy food, and staying physically active.

Through stress management and finding alternative, safe strategies to avoid pandemic fatigue, we can keep our energy levels up and continue doing the things we know will protect ourselves and others from COVID-19, like wearing masks, washing hands, staying six feet apart, and avoiding gatherings.

Michael J. Shea , MD

Critical care medicine

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani Street
Wailuku, HI 96793