by Elyse Wild
For the most up-to-date, accurate information on the current pandemic, please look to official national, state and local health department resources:
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage you to take the steps as outlined by public health experts to do your part in slowing the spread of the virus. Even though you may feel fine, you can still be carrying the virus. Click here for the latest protocols from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on how to prevent sickness and slow the spread.
Social Distancing: What It Is and Why It Is Effective
Social distancing, as defined by the CDC, means, “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” The objective is to reduce the probability of contact between persons carrying the infection. Social distancing is an effective means of slowing the spread of a virus transmitted by respiratory droplets, which is how COVID-19 spreads. Slowing the spread will ensure that our healthcare systems are adequately equipped to deal with hospitalizations due to the virus.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Even if you are feeling healthy, you can still be carrying the virus. According to the CDC, symptoms can appear 2-14 days after exposure. If you do feel sick, follow these guidelines as determined by the CDC.
How You Can Help
Mass closures and canceled events are deemed necessary to contain the virus, protect those who are most vulnerable to infection and limit the length of time our daily lives are disrupted (China reports a drop in newly confirmed cases, which experts say is likely due to the result of strict quarantine). It is of no questions that our community is being impacted by these containment measures: schools are closed across the state, leaving parents in need of childcare, and many children without the school-provided meals they depended on; local businesses and arts organizations are losing revenue due to closures and decreased sales; our already vulnerable and isolated populations — the elderly, the immune-compromised and the homeless — are facing further isolation and vulnerability. The good news is, we can help each other to alleviate the strain. We can come together as a community to support the businesses and organizations we love, to ensure our children’s needs are met and to continue to care for those who need it most. We have compiled a list of specific actions you can take to help.
Local Businesses and Restaurants
As we eliminate unnecessary trips outside of our homes, the local businesses and restaurants that make our community special are going to be hit hard by loss in revenue. Here is what you can do: buy a gift card to your favorite businesses or restaurant. Think of it as investing in a future meal or shopping trip. This will give owners some revenue to work with until containment measures conclude.
Grand Rapids is home to a thriving arts culture that brings world-renowned performances and exhibitions to local audiences. As of this writing, the Grand Rapids Symphony, Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Ballet, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts , the Grand Rapids Art Museum and more are postponing events until early to mid-April. If you are able, now is the time to donate or buy a membership.
Our senior citizens are at the highest risk for contracting the virus. You can help the seniors in your life manage day-to-day by delivering groceries, making meals and doing pharmacy runs. As of this writing, Senior Neighbors remains open. Volunteer with them to help those seniors who depend on the organization for resources and socialization. Call or video chat to check-in and chat to mitigate the negative effects of isolation as they take measures to limit exposure.
School-Aged Children and Their Families
Area families with kids in school are seeing a big change in their lives over the next couple of weeks, whether from the loss of school meals or having to arrange childcare while parents work out of the home.
Help provide meals for area children who depend on school meals by volunteering at or donating to Kids’ Food Basket, an organization that provides nutritious after-school meals to students in need. They are currently engaged in emergency response mode to meet the growing need to provide more meals as a result of school closures. To donate, text “𝐊𝐅𝐁” to 𝟓𝟔𝟔𝟓𝟏. Lake Michigan Credit Union will match up to $5,000. If you are healthy and able, sign up to volunteer at http://vhub.at/EmergencyResponse.
If you are healthy and not in an at-risk group, volunteer to babysit for parents who are working outside of the home and have young children. This will help limit the disruption to their lives, but also possibly limit exposure to at-risk grandparents who may otherwise be sources of childcare.
Local homeless shelters and ministries, such as Degage Ministries and Meltrotter Ministries, play a crucial role in caring for those among us who are most vulnerable. Help them continue to care for and protect those they serve by making a monetary donation or donating hygiene products and cleaning items to stop the spread, such as hand sanitizer, soap or Clorox.
The current pandemic may overwhelm the resources of local health care systems. The best way to help right now is to take measures as outlined by global, national and local public health departments to contain the virus. Keep yourself and others safe and healthy to minimize the need for hospitalization, which will allow for an equitable distribution of resources. Healthcare workers are on the frontlines of this. Send messages to the healthcare workers in your life via text or social media to let them know you are thinking of them. Volunteer to babysit their children while they are at work, make meals, deliver groceries; all of these actions can help alleviate their stress and toll on their mental wellbeing.
Stigmatization is common during outbreaks. Evidence shows that people of Asian descent are facing discrimination and racism due to COVID-19 originating in China. Stigmatization fractures communities and fosters false information. You can help combat the effects of this by spreading facts about COVID-19, not fear. Be mindful of sharing images that contribute to stereotypes or imply that only certain ethnic groups are carrying the virus. Support the Asian owned-businesses and restaurants in our community, or donate to the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Festival if you are able.
How to Cope with the Anxiety of the Pandemic
While social-distancing is necessary right now, it’s not fun. The stress of isolation can have adverse effects on mental and physical health. With the added anxiety of the pandemic, many of us are likely feeling out of sorts. Here is what you can do to take care of your mental health right now.
Limit Exposure to Fear-Based Reporting
Sensational headlines are causing panic. Stick to the official sources listed at the beginning of this article. Do not look to social media for accurate information. Stay up-to-date, but do not fixate on the virus. Limit conversations to the facts; it can be easy to indulge our fears of the unknown by exploring worst-case-scenarios, which leads to undue stress and anxiety.
Exercise is proven to reduce stress and anxiety and boost immunity. There are plenty of ways to workout at home, not to mention in the outdoors. In this article, published in the August 2019 edition of our print magazine, personal trainer Kelsey Emmanuel offers tips on how to workout at home.
Do the Things That Bring You Joy
Listen to your favorite music. Watch your favorite shows. Dance. Read. Paint. Knit. Write. Sing. Bake. Engage in activities that bring you happiness and joy. Allow yourself to feel positive emotions.
Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises help to mitigate the impact of stress and can keep our fears of the unknown from compounding. Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness has a blog with plenty of tips on how to engage in these practices.