Images from a downtown Knoxville walk during a COVID-19 Pandemic, March 2020
First, an update on the progress of the virus. Again I am using the official CDC numbers, which are published at noon each day. For that reason, there are much larger numbers currently being reported on your news stations that will be reflected in the noon numbers after I publish this article.
As of noon, March 18, the CDC reports 7,038 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. This is more than double the number reported two days earlier. That number (two days ago) reflected double the total of four days prior. In other words, the numbers are escalating rapidly.
Dr. Birx, in the White House briefing, made a good point that since tests were not initially available in a timely manner but are now being rushed to testing spots, the number will shoot up as testing approaches needed levels. This means the rate of increase for the next week will reflect spreading of the virus and testing being appropriately employed.
That’s small comfort when looking at the numbers over the next few days because the reverse of that is saying we’ve had far more cases for far longer than we have known because of inadequate testing.
Confirmed cases in Tennessee went up to 98, up from 73 the previous day. Knox County is still listed as having two, but one of those two was diagnosed elsewhere and has not been in the county, so local officials say there is only one.
West Town Mall announced it is closed.
What about mental health?
I started thinking about this question yesterday. This situation is stressful for many of us and is about to get much more stressful for everyone. It is stressful for those who have no choice but to be out and it is stressful for those of us who have started to isolate in a major way. We are appropriately focused on physical health, but we need to also take care of our mental health.
I came up with a starter list of ways to make sure our psyches are in tune and then I reached out to my friend Leticia Flores, Ph.D., Director of UT’s Psychological Services. She added more suggestions. So here’s a list of ways you can maintain your mental health, particularly if you are spending a lot of time in isolation.
Try cooking/baking/making food for yourself. Try new recipes, watch YouTube and other videos that show you how. The satisfaction of making something with your own hands, and giving enjoyment to others can be very therapeutic and provide a sense of agency, self-efficacy, and a little bit of control. If you have children around, it might be fun to “bake around the world,” learning a bit about other countries along the way.
While it might be tempting to drink a bit more while you are shut in, that might not be a great idea, especially if you are suggesting it’s 5:00 p.m. somewhere while you pour vodka into your morning orange juice. Still, if you imbibe, try to do it with others, even via Skype/Zoom/FaceTIme. Happy virtual hours will give you a sense of connectedness and help you manage the isolation and stress a little better.
This can also work with children (no, do not give your two-year-old a shot) if they can’t play with others outside, set up a play date via video where kids can share drawings, play house, and otherwise chatter with each other. It’ll be a relief for kids and for parents who need a little break. It also works for adults to simply visit with friends or family (no drinking necessary).
It’s important to be careful with media, both traditional and social. Dr. Flores said, “While it’s good to keep up with friends/family, it’s also easy to slip down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing and misinformation fueled by fear and ambiguity.” I’d also encourage you to pick one or two reliable sources of information and check in with those on a reasonable schedule.
If you cut off the television and don’t look at the Internet for a few hours at a time, you will be easily able to catch up and you’ll probably be happier than if you constantly hit refresh to see if there is news this minute that is different from the last. Even in the best of times, media in 2020 is designed to keep you emotionally charged (angry, titillated, amused, frustrated) to keep you engaged. Don’t fall into the trap.
Be sure you are getting enough rest and eating as healthy as possible. Yes, these impact your physical health but also your mental health. Everything feels worse on too little sleep. To that end, Dr. Flores suggests keeping a regular schedule for eating, sleeping, and waking as much as is possible. We all benefit from routine. I would add that if a little nap feels good, go for it. You’ll feel better afterward.
Do something that takes your mind elsewhere for a while. We need psychic rest as much as we need physical rest. We can’t sustain red alert status indefinitely. Read a book and lose yourself in it. Watch a bad movie just to make fun of it. Dig out those photo albums (digital or otherwise) that you haven’t looked at in a long time and relive some of your favorite times. If you have children, tell them the stories. I’m always down for listening to music. Pull out old favorites and don’t just let them become background. Really listen.
Go for a walk or a bike ride. We need sunshine and when that sun comes out, get your body out there. We’ve been told to practice social distancing and that works with a walk in a non-crowded space. We took a walk from downtown and along the river, making a big loop yesterday and we rarely passed others. When we did, it felt good to speak to other humans, even if from a distance (two meters!) Avoid touching surfaces while you are out and wash your hands when you return!
Finally, get outside of yourself. Think of ways you can help others. Do you know someone who is probably lonely? Send them a text or call them. Send them a card. Do you know someone who struggles with depression and for whom isolation isn’t a good thing? Reach out. Certainly, if you or someone you know is depressed, get help.
Here’s a list of affordable mental health resources available in our community:
From their Patient Information Guide: If you have never been to Cherokee Health Systems before, you can call our Central Access Department toll-free at 1-866-231-4477 (between the hours of 8am-6pm EST). Staff will collect information, send a registration form to complete and schedule your first appointment. You will then meet with an engagement team member who will acquaint you with Cherokee and make sure you are being connected with the right provider. Once you are an established patient, you will automatically receive a reminder of follow-up appointments. If you are sick and need an unscheduled appointment, simply call the Cherokee clinic you normally use.This link is to their adult primary and behavioral health care services:
Behavioral Health Safety Net (for getting coverage if you have no insurance)
The Behavioral Health Safety Net of Tennessee is a program created by the State of Tennessee and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health/ Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) to provide mental health treatment to individuals who have no access to health care due to lack of health insurance. The Behavioral Health Safety Net Program provides outpatient medication management, community-based case management, and individual therapy services. The program also assists participants in obtaining their psychotropic medications at a reduced price or at no cost through various pharmacy assistance programs.