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COVID, Quickly, Episode 7: The Coming Pandemic Grief Wave, and Mask Whiplash

by Scientific American
May 21st 2021
Today we bring you a new episode in our podcast series: COVID, Quickly. Every two weeks,  Scientific American ’s senior health editors  Tanya Lewis  and  Josh ... More
We're all shopping for essentials online these days and now you can get rewarded for it with the Bank of America. Customized cash rewards, credit card, you can choose to earn 3% cash back on online shopping. The essentials have never felt more rewarding, visit bank of America dot com slash more rewarding to apply now. Copyright 2021 Bank of America Corporation. Hi and welcome to Covid. Quickly a scientific american podcast series. This is your fast track update on the Covid pandemic. We bring you up to speed on the science behind the most urgent questions about the virus and the disease. We demystify the research and help you understand what it really means. I'm Tonya Lewis and I'm josh fishermen were scientific american's senior health editors. Today. We're going to talk about an oncoming wave of disabling grief that could hit lots of people and we'll try and un confuse you about the complicated new mask wearing guidelines from the CDC.

This is a sad story, but it's important People who have lost loved ones to covid are at high risk for a mental health problem called prolonged grief disorder. How is that different from normal morning? Well, it's paralyzing Tanya. This is a high level of mental language that keeps people from leaving their homes, taking care of their families and holding down a job. It's a recognized syndrome that can go on for a year or more without let up. Ordinarily after losing someone close, you can be anguished and then you start to function again in time, but people with prolonged grief described their lives as simply waiting to die. The scary thing is that it looks like there will be a huge number of these people because of Covid, Katie harmon courage. One of our Siam dot com contributors crunch some numbers in a story that's now up on our website. About 5 to 10% of bereaved people get this condition. There are almost 600,000 covid dead in the US and each one leaves behind. About nine close Mourners. Research shows this means there could be a quarter million to a half million people disabled by grief in the coming months.

Mental health specialists say covid deaths. Make believe people particularly prone to this problem. The deaths are often sudden. Those left behind are cut off from normal morning rituals, says Catherine shear, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, Plus travel and activity restrictions make it hard to make connections and rebuild lives add on economic hardship in general anxiety and you've got a real problem. And there are already signs that the pandemic triggers this disorder. Research published earlier this year found indications of prolonged grief in nearly 38% of pandemic bereaved individuals in China. That is more than triple the typical rate. The disorder can also exacerbate suicidality and substance misuse. Can people get help for this condition That could be really tough. We're not ready for something this big in terms of mental health resources, grief disorder is usually treated with months of therapy that works But we don't have therapists. There are about 30 psychologists and fewer than 16 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in the US. numbers are even lower in poor communities that have suffered the most deaths during the pandemic.

People in such areas who tend to be people of color often can't afford insurance to cover mental health treatment. So there aren't easy answers, experts say. A safe return to morning rituals, vaccinated or mask could help so could relieving other pandemic stresses like getting evicted or going hungry. That relief gives a grieving family a chance to deal with the loss of a parent for example. And the biden administration has promised $2.5 billion to aid state mental health services. But I don't know if that money will bolster the grief counseling that's needed here. If you do need help, if you or someone you know is struggling or having thoughts of suicide, there are places to turn call the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 802 738255 or contact the crisis text line by texting talk ta LK 2741741. The C. D. C. Recently issued new guidelines saying that vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or social distance and most indoor and outdoor settings.

With a few exceptions like hospitals, what do you make of the guidelines and are you ready to ditch your mask? The new guidelines came as a surprise to many public health experts and to the public. Just a couple weeks ago, the CDC was saying that vaccinated people needed to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings so it felt a bit like whiplash. Some accused the CDC of caving to public pressure, but the CDC says its new guidelines are based purely on the evidence that vaccines are extremely good and not just preventing people from getting infected, but also from transmitting the virus to others. Still, some experts say the guidance was premature. As Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the vaccine and infectious disease organization at Canada's University of Saskatchewan pointed out in a recent article in slate. It's not so much the science subject to the vaccines really do protect people. It's the way that science is being communicated. The biggest problem is there's no way to know if someone who's not wearing a mask has been vaccinated or not. It's basically an honor code and that could leave unvaccinated people, including young Children or immuno compromised people vulnerable to getting covid.

Plus it makes it virtually impossible for businesses to enforce mask guidelines which could make essential workers feel unsafe. And we're already seeing some places that are getting rid of their mask mandates, even though more than half the country is still unvaccinated. Tanya, you asked our Siam colleagues, many of whom are now fully vaccinated about if, when and where they're going to keep wearing their masks. What did you hear? Many told me they were happy to ditch their masks outside and uncrowded areas. One even said she felt near giddy, but they were planning to keep them on indoors in places like grocery stores or public transit. They wanted to set an example of protecting others and also protecting their Children or loved ones who are unvaccinated. Others said they were happy to comply with state or local guidelines, but we're ready to stop wearing masks in situations the CDC says are safe, especially the people who had glasses who are constantly having to fight the fog personally. I've been happy to take my mask off when I'm outside away from other people, but I plan on keeping my mask on when I'm in most indoor settings with strangers. At least until more people are vaccinated and the number of covid cases is much lower.

What about you? Josh? I keep mine in my pocket and I put it on when I run into crowds, indoors or outside. Sounds reasonable. For my part, it's not that I think the vaccine won't protect me. Although no vaccine is 100% effective. It's more the fact that given so many people are unvaccinated, I don't want to make people guess whether or not I am. It's not a huge inconvenience to wear one and if it helps model behavior that keeps others safe. I'm happy to keep it on. Mm. Now you're up to speed. Thanks for joining us. Come back in two weeks for the next episode of Covid quickly and check out siam dot com for updated an in depth Covid News. Mm

COVID, Quickly, Episode 7: The Coming Pandemic Grief Wave, and Mask Whiplash
COVID, Quickly, Episode 7: The Coming Pandemic Grief Wave, and Mask Whiplash
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