Never before in modern memory has the human race been faced with such a stressful and anxiety provoking foe. The novel coronavirus or COVI-19 has resulted in untold emotional unrest and fear among all nations and peoples of our world. There has been a lot of talk about the “invisible enemy,” an RNA based complex protein that looks like a World War 2 anti-ship mine with spikes sticking out of its surface. We are informed daily by the media that young and old victims of this virus are ending up on ventilators for weeks at a time if they survive. To “flatten the curve” and avoid overwhelming our hospitals we have had to become socially isolated, settle in place in our residences, wear masks when going out and remembering to wash our hands and not touch our faces. And after three months of dealing with this enemy of grown ups we are now being informed that children who we believed were not at risk of being made seriously ill have suffered as cases of a strange multi system inflammatory syndrome much like Kawasaki disease began to appear at hospitals.
The reality of this plague is bad enough to fathom by any rational person. The facts we are presented with certainly evoke fear and apprehension. Our frontline healthcare providers who are by their profession somewhat desensitized to run-of-the-mill suffering as they treat patients with terminal illness, heart attacks, metastatic cancer or debilitating strokes, find themselves traumatized by the COVID crisis.
So what is generating this degree of emotional suffering? Much of it comes from the unseen enemy, this virus that is only visible under special microscopes. Some of it comes from the fact that its genetic structure is novel. No human being had been exposed to it prior to its appearance in Wuhan so our immune systems had no defense against its onslaught. It is extraordinarily infectious so that an infected person will infect several people in close proximity over time.
What is the paradox that I am referring to? Actually, there is more than one paradox. The first one involves the media explosion that began last century and has exponentially continued this century. We appreciate all the benefits from being plugged in 24/7 to social media, internet messaging and an abundance of television news all day long. The digital revolution that amazed us has also proved to be harmful to our emotional well being. Multimedia exposure during the COVID pandemic has been like watching a horror movie that never ends! What we valued and embraced has turned out to be a traumatizing process. If you check the Centers for Disease Control website for data on the influenza outbreak for the 2018-2019 season you will find that 35.5 million Americans came down with the flu, 490,000 hospitalizations resulted, and there were 34,200 deaths. Imagine if the media tracked the annual flu season like they have tracked the COVID pandemic. Every flu season would be emotionally traumatizing. We certainly don’t go into lockdown every year for the flu nor do we social distance. We do have a flu shot available, but data on its effectiveness suggests a 45% effectiveness this past season. Our advantage with influenza is that over time, all of us have had some level of exposure to this family of viruses imparting a degree of “herd immunity.”
This brings us to the core paradox. If we stay locked down and isolated indefinitely there will be no herd immunity developing. The concept of herd immunity means that if enough of our population is exposed and develops immunity to this virus, ongoing spread becomes very difficult. For example, smallpox, chicken pox, measles and mumps had been the scourge of society until the administration of vaccines essentially created a herd immunity.
We will eventually have an effective vaccine for COVID-19 but it will be some time before we will be able to provide mass inoculation. If there had been no COVID-19 social isolation our healthcare system would be over run, resulting in a tsunami of fatalities.
So the course that is being taken is to gradually open up our lockdown while we carefully prepare for future waves of illness. Be reassured that there will come a day in the not too distant future that this horrible virus will be no greater a threat than the annual flu. That time will come.
Connect With A Psychologist.
If you are experiencing anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are available for online services. For more information, contact the The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 496-1094.