Staying the course during pandemic fatigue
The roughly 200 bodies of perished hikers that remain on Mount Everest serve as a grim reminder of the inherent dangers of extremes in conditions and ambition. Some of these fallen hikers have gained worldwide recognition as unfortunate landmarks on the nearly 30,000-foot mountain, including a man nicknamed “Green Boots.” Since 1996 he has been entombed in an ice cave elevated 28,000 feet above sea level, in the final stretch of terrain aptly known as “the death zone.” His fluorescent green boots still strapped to his feet in stark contrast to the ice and snow serve as an unintentional beacon—a warning to fellow hikers of how danger can be closest at hand when they are nearest to the top.
As we enter nearly a full year of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be aware of this phenomenon, known as “summit fever.” When the end seems within reach and has been eagerly anticipated, when so much has been sacrificed and lost, exhaustion and anticipation can replace caution—and lead to decisions that have dire consequences.
How are we seeing this in the COVID-19 pandemic?
- With pandemic fatigue giving way to pandemic exhaustion, people aren’t exercising the same caution as they did previously.
- Some people wrongly assume that if they have taken risks and not yet contracted COVID-19, then continuing those behaviors is safe.
- With vaccines becoming available and more on the way, the end feels close at hand.
- Many people have become desensitized to the case numbers, death rates, and risks.
Why is it more important now than ever to be vigilant in exercising caution to stay safe?
- With case rates reaching new highs, most states are experiencing widespread community spread. This means your chances of encountering someone with COVID-19 are higher than they were during most of 2020.
- For example, according to CDC data, during summer case peaks in 2020, the U.S. averaged around 1,500 cases per 100,000 people; during peaks in January 2021, the case rate climbed to around 7,600 cases per 100,000 people.
- While people might find comfort in knowing many of those infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms that last only a few days, some are experiencing what is called “long-haul COVID,” even several months post-infection. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, loss of smell and taste, hair loss, extreme fatigue, and “brain fog” have been reported along with more serious complications, such as diabetes. The prevalence, duration, and reasons are not yet known, and it can occur in both people who were very ill and those who were not.
- Some variants that are developing as the virus mutates can spread faster and with greater ease. Regions where infection rates had slowed down are experiencing rapid upticks, which could be disastrous in areas where there is already unchecked community spread.
- Vaccine rollouts state by state have been highly variable, causing a slowdown in vaccinating the public.
What can employers do to help?
- Remind employees of resources available to cope with pandemic fatigue, anxiety, and isolation, such as employee assistance programs.
- Encourage programs for well-being, such as mindfulness, exercise, and proper sleep, which can help employees stay engaged in healthy habits and resiliency.
- Keep aware of changing guidelines from resources such as the CDC to help protect against more transmissible strains, including using masks with better protection when possible and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
- Continue to encourage employees to engage in safety, while understanding that they might be “tuning out” if it’s overly redundant. Understand that we are all exhausted and frustrated, but reminding people of how their efforts are not wasted and can promote a better outcome can help to add purpose and value to precautions.
- Stay up to date on state resources to help employees be informed of vaccination timelines, updates, and testing resources.
- Help employees stay engaged in life by providing resources for safe events, such as a calendar for online concerts and plays, resources on free classes, and virtual book clubs.
It’s important to keep in mind that we cannot lose hope, there will be improvement, and that a post-COVID life is likely possible in 2021. However, much of that success hinges on an increase in awareness, caution, and care over the coming months.
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