Masked Up, Gloved Up, and Stocked Up, but We're Now Sick and Tired: Understanding COVID-19 Fatigue

For most of us our journey with the coronavirus pandemic started in March 2020 with the institution of executive orders to stay at home and shelter in place. We masked up and gloved up and stocked up at the depleted grocery shelves, hoping the worst would be over before we ran out of peanut butter or toilet paper.


We expected and were told that the virus would burn itself out, be gone by spring and summer, and normal would return. COVID-19 would be just a bad memory. Nothing to worry about.


We lost jobs. Worked from home when we could. Suited up as first responders and waited, wondering what summer and fall would bring. Could businesses reopen? Would kids go to school? How would we juggle distance learning and remote working and whether vulnerable grandparents could fill in some of the gaps?


That was then. This is now--and it's still then.


As we enter the third peak, nothing burned out. We are still waiting and wondering.

The concept of COVID fatigue is now reality. We’re sick and tired. Many of us have become numb to the vitriolic narratives among the dueling politicians and respected scientific advisors. The recommendations have been divisive and inconsistent, and it’s no wonder that people have become in some circumstances indifferent to the recommendations of credentialed professionals.


But let us try to make some sense out of this chaos for the sake of ourselves and our families and communities.


It has been well known since the virus was first identified that it is spread by person-to-person contact. There are unusual circumstances where the virus may be viable or alive on a counter surface, on a doorknob or keyboard, but these are vanishingly unusual situations.


Following exposures of people becoming infected in a house of worship, at a sporting event, at a wedding, at a funeral, at a political rally, or at a town meeting, there was a consensus that exposure continuously to someone with an infection could risk all of our lives.


But there is some new information that we need to understand. Our life and the life of our families depend on it.


The Centers for Disease Control guidelines now suggest with compelling data that brief exposure to individuals who are COVID positive puts us at risk for being infected. This underscores the importance of distancing ourselves from strangers and being especially mindful of the risks of being in crowds as well as the risks from small family gatherings.


With the onset of the cold weather, more time inside, and with the holiday season on the horizon, the future belongs to the prepared, the informed. This is not the flu, this is not a minor inconvenience, and you will be making life-and-death decisions that can affect you and those inside your family bubble.


Do we have everybody over for Thanksgiving dinner? Do we fly to attend a brother-in-law’s funeral? Is Christmas going to be "scrooged" too? Do we return to the office and shelter in a cubicle? Can we safely get a haircut or manicure?


At one point, health policy leadership defined close contact as someone who spent 15 minutes are more within 6 feet of an individual who was infectious.


However, a corrections officer was responsible for guarding 6 inmates and never spent 15 consecutive minutes within 6 feet of these individuals. However, there were at least 22 times during an 8-hour shift that the officer was exposed to the inmates—for a total of 17 minutes. The officer became COVID positive from those very limited contacts.


From a practical standpoint what does this mean for you and me?


It means that we are at risk of becoming infected with COVID from our casual daily contacts: that helpful clerk at Walmart, the parking lot attendant, a furnace repair person, an insurance adjuster who stops by the house for a potential claim, an attendant at a fast food facility. Each of these encounters seemingly trivial and insignificant can place us at risk of becoming infected.


So what can we do to protect our ourselves? You know the drill by now: wash your hands the minute you come back home, wear protective masks (nonnegotiable), plan the day, stay away from other people. Period.


These are not trivial issues. These are matters of life and death.


Signs of brighter days. Enjoy this bouquet. Photo courtesy Tom Liggett, author of Mozart in the Garden at www.PrintersDevilPress.com.

© 2020  Edward T. Creagan, MD, and Write On Ink Publishing