After 3 months of being in lockdown, restrictions are beginning to loosen. Some state restrictions may differ from others but you may see more public spaces and businesses beginning to open. For e.g. some places that have opened or are opening in NJ include restaurants, retail stores and malls, gyms, daycare centers, and hair salons where there is close human contact. You may notice people gathering in larger groups at the local park and others are quickly grabbing their sunscreen and headed to the beaches. You may even be noticing large groups of protesters in close proximity on the television or in your town.
While we are no longer in strict quarantine it might seem that the Coronavirus is over but it's not! There is still no vaccine or cure and it is still very much with us. Lockdowns are ending because in certain areas cases are lower, testing has increased and life in permanent lockdown isn't sustainable.
You might start to wonder how lifting restrictions are safe when there has not been a stop to the virus! Many people still feel extremely nervous and cautious to attend social gatherings, dine at restaurants, or going to a store. Others seem calm about venturing out and getting in close proximity to others including hugging family and friends. Some people simply had enough of being quarantined and they are living life as it was before the pandemic. They might just not care about the spread of the pandemic in general anymore! The reality is, nobody knows what is going to happen as things begin to open up. What is most likely to happen is that virus cases will continue to surge and fall around the world for the foreseeable future.
This coronavirus has resulted in a painful economic shutdown and it is understandable that most states want to open up and jump-start the economy. But along with that comes a rollercoaster of emotions.No matter what opinion you have about the coronavirus and restrictions being lifted, it is important to remember that many of our lives will be changed forever. We still have to be cautious and aware of how we behave as we begin to participate with other elements of society again. It is important to maintain some boundaries with yourself and others as we begin to resume society operations. Now is a good time to remember that we all have different feelings and opinions about the pandemic. But, no matter what side of the fence you are on, the pandemic has impacted us all.
When we were in lockdown we had no choice and we were all required to stay at home. But now, since restrictions are being lifted we all have options; however, there are some drawbacks with this. People are judging others and attacking them for their feelings and opinions even within their own family and friend group. Many people feel pressure from others and question whether their feelings are legitimate. You may feel pressure when your friend is calling you to come over or when your barber is starting to take reservations.
If you are not ready and uncomfortable with things opening up, you may want to be honest with yourself. Recognize that a pandemic has impacted everyone and many people feel the same uncomfortable pressuring feeling like you. Take enough time for yourself in order to feel ready. The truth is feelings are not facts and nobody is right or wrong for feeling the way they do. We need to respect each other's feelings and remain true to ourselves while not putting others at risk.
We all learned to live with masks, social distancing, and new hand washing rituals. Now we need to learn how to move forward and live somewhat of a "normal" life while minimizing risk and keeping us as safe as possible. A harm reduction approach can be very effective in doing just that. The goal of harm reduction is to encourage positive change among people (without judgment) while maintaining procedures and practices that minimize negative health.
Below are some harm reduction tools that are recommended by public health experts and scientists which might help you make your own decisions on whether or not you should dine at a restaurant, go to church, get a manicure, etc.
1.) Monitor your state and town. Pay attention to the percentage of tests that are positive and the trend in overall case rates. This can help you understand if you are at a greater risk of getting the virus. If you notice that positive tests are beginning to rise, you should be
2.) Keep your contacts to a minimum. If you want to branch out from members of your household to extended family and friends it is recommended that you keep contacts as low and consistent as possible. Keep communication open and without judgment so people feel comfortable disclosing new exposures.
3) Create an exposure budget. Risk is cumulative, therefore you want to make trade-offs by choosing activities that are most important to you. For e.g. would you rather see your elderly mom or attend a barbecue at your friend's house this week? Think of managing your health risk as you would manage your diet. You may want to skip the appetizer if you want the dessert. Each activity has it's own level of risk and some are riskier than others. Low-risk activities include going to the grocery store once a week or going for a walk in a park. Higher risk activities may include going to an indoor dinner party, getting a pedicure, or going to the office.
4) Limit your higher-risk activities, keep them as short as possible, and don't take unnecessary ones. For e.g Is it really necessary to go to the mall for a new pair of shoes when you already have 100 pairs of shoes in your closet? Maybe...if you are Carrie Bradshaw from "Sex In The City"...lol! Unfortunately, there is no magic number to determine what your personal exposure budget should be or what the "costs" of different actions or activities are. It is totally up to you to create a budget that you feel comfortable with. Better decisions are made when they are based on scientific evidence, facts, and guidelines and not peer pressure.
5.) Continue to take previous precautions. Wear a mask or have a mask on hand. Keep a mask in your car or in your bag. Remember to wash your hands frequently in order to stop any germs from spreading. Keep your hands away from your face. Continue to maintain a safe 6' distance from others, especially if you are indoors since the virus can spread more easily inside.
Unfortunately, the virus is going to be with us for a while and it is important to learn how to adapt and live a full and healthy life as much as we can. It is too risky to continue to live the way we were pre-pandemic but it doesn't mean we can't learn how to be happy in this "new normal" by taking a harm reduction approach.
If you are feeling anxious as things begin to open up more we are always here to help!