As the state slowly begins to reopen there’s a lot of mixed messages about what it means for Californians because counties, cities and the state are opening at different paces.
CapRadio recently asked our audience about what concerns them about the reopening beginning to take place. We heard everything from California is opening prematurely so officials should take more caution to relief that some people can go back to work.
There was an air of anxiety in their responses like this: “I think it is too early, and people just need to calm down. We need more testing before we start making plans to reopen so we can know what we are dealing with.”
Our listeners noted that they’re concerned because there are new transmissions and deaths from COVID-19 almost daily in the state. As of May 6 there were 60,614 cases in the state and 2,504 deaths.
But how do we move forward? CapRadio’s region encompasses many counties and two states all with different rules. Imagine living in one county with a strict stay-at-home order and working in another where restrictions are limited. That’s the reality for many of our listeners and it’s producing anxiety for some.
We reached out to experts to find out how to meander through all the noise, news and changing guidelines.
What we looked into:
- How to find meaning within this crisis and how to fight off anxiety
- Precautions moving forward
- How do vulnerable communities move ahead?
- Is it safe to go out into the natural world?
Paul Smaldino - Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Merced. He studies the interaction between individual behavior and social organization, with a perspective rooted in evolutionary ecology and complex systems.
Holly Martinez - Director of Programs and Advocacy with the California State Parks Foundation.
Kathyrn G. Kietzman - research scientist at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Emphasis in elder health.
John Swartzberg - an infectious disease specialist at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.
Make a list.
That’s the advice Sarah Jaquette Ray is giving people who are dealing with anxiety because of the pandemic. The list should include all the things that are going well, because it will hopefully lift you out of the mundane.
“Every morning I try to write down a couple of things that I'm going to look forward to that day,” Ray said. “Even if it's as simple as like making lunch for my kids or something dumb like calling my mom … it kind of marks points in my day that are a little bit more redolent with meaning for myself.”
The goal is to milk the value out of what we can control in our lives, Ray said. She recently wrote a book about climate anxiety and she says COVID-19 isn’t too different.
“Climate change is going to unleash a lot more pandemics,” she said. “There's a direct kind of scientific connection. But in terms of the immediate threat that we feel with COVID, most people don't really feel that with climate change.”
She says people should see pandemics as part of climate change. But she says not to get too caught up in that and think about ways to overcome anxiety. She recommends only consuming media so often, because it can be overwhelming, disruptive and confusing for people.
“We should be really thoughtful about the media that we consume and be quite disciplined about that because the media that we're consuming is known for trying to capture our negative attention,” she said. “We are also more inclined neurologically to focus on negative news … so we really need to be deliberate about the media that we consume.”
Lastly she says people should focus on what they can control because “that will distract us from a lot of the anxiety and worry, which is going to be there anyway.”
With so many recommendations out there from local, county and state leadership, CapRadio decided to ask public health experts about how to go about life as the economy reopens.
John Swartzberg, an infectious disease specialist at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, says it can be hard to know what to do because there is no recent playbook on how to deal with the pandemic.
“So the next best thing is to turn to people who are making decisions based upon good solid data as opposed to the kind of information we're getting out of the White House,” Swartzberg said.
He applauds how California dealt with bending the curve and he says “we can’t shelter in place forever,” but going back to work may mean a second wave of transmissions. As the pandemic lingers and some people return to their jobs he says it’s still important to socially distance, to use masks and to wash your hands.
“I worry that people think that if they're wearing a mask, they don't have to be very careful," he said. “And that's not the case. But the mask will help prevent somebody else from transmitting it to you.”
But he says California hasn’t tested enough people and that “without rigorous testing, we may see the curve starting to go up, then we immediately have to pull back.”
Swartzberg reiterated that the virus is still here and we don't know what percentage of the American population has already been infected with it.
“Our best guesses are somewhere between 3 and 5%, which means there's somewhere between 95 and 97% of the American population still susceptible to this virus,” he said. “Nothing has substantially changed since this pandemic began. Nothing.
“It's hard to believe it won't happen, that people are going to get infected in large numbers again.”
Paul Smaldino, a professor who studies collective social behavior at UC Merced, is also concerned a second wave could take place. He recommends taking any precaution you can because this is about protecting each other.
“Wearing a mask is going to dramatically decrease the chance that you infect someone else; and I think that framing often gets lost,” he said. “You should also think about the fact that if you're sick, you have a responsibility to other people to not infect them. Not just because you're a nice person or whatever, but because we are all part of a society.”
He recognizes needs are different for each community. For example, a rural town might need different rules than a metropolis.
“We also need to remember that we're connected, right?” he questioned. “Just because you live in a low population area doesn't mean you don't have the possibility of infecting someone or being infected by someone in a high population area, even if you yourself aren't going between those areas [because] people still travel.”
CapRadio also received a lot of questions about seniors and disadvantaged communities that are more prone to catching COVID-19. Some said they’re “scared about more infections and the disproportionate impact on people of color.” Others have illnesses or are of an age that make them more vulnerable and are “not not sure when it will be actually safe to go out or when can we allow family members to visit?”
Kathryn Kietzman studies elder care at UCLA and says it’s very important that vulnerable communities take extra precaution. That may mean staying indoors a lot longer than everyone else.
“I think that seniors and people of all ages with health conditions need to really proceed with caution and to not assume that because things are starting to open up that means we're free and clear,” she said.
Because there's so many unknowns, like when a vaccine will be available, she says it’s important for seniors and their loved ones to stay the course.
Kietzman says “it’s a big risk to” open up the economy, because “you can't bring back a life. So, for me, the scales need to be balanced toward protecting and saving lives at all costs.”
For anyone dealing with sickness or 65 years of age or older she recommends talking to your doctor before you follow any order saying you can leave your home.
“They may be able to help you without you having to leave your home to get evaluated,” she said. “Seniors and others with underlying health conditions that need attention, need to consult a doctor … to find out what can be done in response to their immediate health needs.”
She says it’s still very important to keep seniors in mind and to help them, because they will most likely be the last people to undergo a lifting of stay-at-home orders.
“If stores are opening up that weren't open before, and an older adult has a need for something, enlist a family member or enlist a caregiver to get those things,” she said. “I would still recommend staying as close to the original stay at home guidelines as possible.”
For any seniors needing someone to chat with she recommends calling the Friendship Line. It’s a 24-hour hotline designed for older adults to have someone to reach out to when feeling anxious or to get information. That number is 1-888-670-1360
Californians love the outdoors. It’s been hard for many to shelter-in-place when some of the best trails, parks and beaches in the world are so close by.
CapRadio listeners who enjoy the outdoors or live in rural areas are concerned as well. They are worried about people bringing the coronavirus to places like Lake Tahoe, which could have lasting effects on the economy there.
There’s been a lot of confusion, or desire, about where people can recreate during the shelter-in-place orders. Holly Martinez, director of programs and advocacy with the California State Parks Foundation, says that’s because “most Californians don't typically understand the difference between a city, county, regional, state or national park.”
Martinez’s advice is simple. Check to see if the area you want to visit is open before you leave. And if you’re sick stay home no matter what the order for your area is.
“Don't go outside — that is a really important thing — even if you have face covering or gloves, it's just better to be safe than sorry to not expose other people to whatever illness you might have,” she said.
If you are feeling well and choose to hike a trail or visit a beach she says only go with the people you live with.
“Don't take that risk to expose others who might be carrying the virus and not even know it,” she said.
When people go outside she recommends wearing a mask and gloves, especially when visiting areas with lots of people. She also says to bring hand sanitizer and lots of water because fountains will likely not be running.
When hiking, visiting a park or laying out at the beach she says to stay six feet away from people and to make sure your presence is known.
“If you're approaching somebody, simply say hello and move aside giving the other person six feet of space to move by,” she said. “Just be courteous … and be very communicative about your presence so that people are clear that you're there and that we're respecting each other's space so that we can all enjoy these incredible places.”
CapRadio's Helga Salinas contributed to this report.
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