Since the pandemic began more than one year ago, we have all been touched in one way or another by COVID-19. It has had an impact on every aspect of life as we know it. Routine activities were either postponed or eliminated due to fear of contracting the virus.
Thankfully, through a combination of simple precautions such as masking, social distancing and a vaccine we can now access, fears of contracting COVID-19 have been reduced.
While all of us need to remain vigilant regarding the virus, especially as new variants enter our communities, we also need to be vigilant when it comes to taking care of our health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), by June 30, 2020, due to concerns of COVID-19, an estimated 41% of U.S. adults delayed or avoided medical care. One in 10 chose not to seek urgent or emergency care, and three in 10 delayed routine care. Both of these troubling figures means sicker patients are now seeking delayed care with devastating results.
Delaying care for those who have suffered a stroke, for example, can mean the difference between a full recovery with few side effects or a lifetime of permanent disability or even death. Delayed routine care for underlying chronic conditions is not only devastating for those who suffer from one of these conditions, such as diabetes, but it causes a multiplier effect for our health system, causing the cost of care to rise as a result.
When the pandemic began, much of life was put on hold. Unfortunately, our health continues to progress or decline no matter the external circumstances. It is important that this trend of postponing care changes so that, as our society heals from the economic damage caused by the pandemic, our community members emerge healthy as well.
We know much more now than we did a year ago about the prevention of COVID-19 and have effective treatments for it. Most importantly, we have vaccines that are nearly 100% effective in protecting you against severe illness causing hospitalization or death.
Sadly, many hospitalizations now are of those who are younger and unvaccinated. While largely preventable with a vaccine, hospitalization from COVID-19 can have significant personal and financial costs as a result of the complicated care and lengthy recovery associated with treating severe illness. It is more important now than ever before, given the rise in more contiguous and deadly variants, to get vaccinated.
We are at a critical tipping point in our society with vaccines. There is real urgency associated with convincing all who are able to get a vaccine and minimizing the opportunities for the coronavirus to mutate and create more deadly variants. If you have not been vaccinated, get one, and if you cannot do it for yourself, be a hero and get a vaccine to protect those around you who may be more vulnerable than you.
There is also no better time than now to return to your health care provider either for needed routine care, an annual physical or continued treatment of a chronic condition. And, on a positive note, the pandemic has made it even easier to access care, either through a video or audio visit.
There is also an opportunity to refocus on the therapeutic approaches that we know are important to positive well-being. According to a recent University of California, San Francisco study, physical activity dropped in some cases during the pandemic by as much as 50%, and many reported increased stress due to a lack of sleep.
Fortunately, we have the ability to turn these troubling trends around by refocusing on increased physical activity, restorative sleep, stress management and positive social connections, which together can prevent, treat and even reverse chronic disease. Your local health care provider may have resources to help you return to health in these important areas.
All of us are in a position to make our lives better by returning to health. Part of our journey back to normal after this lengthy disruption in our lives is to take care of ourselves by scheduling preventive screenings, going to the emergency department for red-flag symptoms such as crushing chest pain or trouble breathing, and keeping follow-up appointments with your health care provider to manage chronic disease.
As more and more of us get vaccinated, we can speed the progress toward a post-pandemic world. Your local health care provider was there for you before the pandemic and is awaiting your return now.
Josh Becker represents the 13th Senate District in the California Legislature. He can be reached at [email protected] Dan Woods is the chief executive officer of El Camino Health. His email address is [email protected].