Pandemic Fatigue

In the United States, many of the recent news reports are focusing on trying to find a new normal.  Merely using the word normal implies that things can go back to the way it used to be before COVID-19.  Unfortunately, we know that is not going to happen.   

One definition of fatigue is a person lacks the energy to perform tasks.  It is also known as exhaustion, feeling run down, lethargy, listless, malaise, or weakness.   Fatigue may be due to mental stress.  It may be due to physical demands.  Sometimes it is a combination of both psychological and physical.  Pandemic fatigue is feeling these symptoms as a result of adjusting our daily routine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We in the United States are suffering lives lost, unemployment, business disruption, and financial burden.  How the pandemic affects individual Americans varies considerably –  the contrasts can be as different as night and day.

Lives lost due to COVID 19 – over 90,000 Americans.  Australia – lives lost 98.  Iowa State has more COVID related deaths than the country of Australia.   Lucas county of Ohio has more COVID related deaths than the country of Greece.  The city of Chicago has more COVID associated deaths than the country of Poland.  In the United States, we have a stark difference between places that have lost a significant number of lives vs places that have significantly less.  Albany in Georgia, Baton Rouge, Bridgeport in Connecticut, Boston, Buffalo, Cedar Rapids in Iowa, Chicago, Detroit, Farmington in New Mexico, Flagstaff in Arizona, Greely in Colorado, Greensburg in Indiana, New York City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Salem in Ohio, Sumter in South Carolina, Trenton in New Jersey, and Washington DC are among the hardest-hit cities with higher total death rates per capita.  Some metropolitan areas with low infection rates per capita include Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, and Tampa Bay.   Another contrast is the percentage of African Americans who died in comparison to other races.  Theories as to why the African American population has suffered more include higher rates of pre-existing conditions, less access to health care, housing disparities, and a higher percentage of essential workers cited as probable causes.  Globally, the United States has one of the higher death rates per capita.  Countries with higher infection rates per capita should logically have higher numbers of COVID related deaths.   However, Singapore has a high number of infections per capita but is not among the top 15 countries in COVID related deaths.  It could be explained by how they define COVID related deaths.   Other undetermined factors could be reasons why they are not seeing as many deaths per capita.

Staggering unemployment is the new normal.   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for April 2020 spiked to 14.7% as 20.5 million workers lost their jobs.  Those facts do not include May unemployment figures.

Unemployment Rates for the World’s Largest Economies 

The unemployment rates for the world’s largest economies were generally low at the end of 2019.

  • Japan: 2.4%
  • India: 3.5%
  • Germany: 3.6%
  • United Kingdom: 3.9%
  • United States: 4.1%
  • China: 4.8%
  • Canada: 5.9%
  • France: 8.6%
  • Italy: 10.4%
  • Brazil: 11.6%4 

Source: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/062315/unemployment-rates-country.asp

In contrast the unemployment of the same countries in April 2020:

  • Japan: 3.0%
  • India: no data
  • Germany: 3.9%
  • United Kingdom: 4.8%
  • United States: 14.7%
  • China: 4.3%
  • Canada: 7.5%
  • France: 10.4%
  • Italy: 12.7%
  • Brazil: 14.7% 

Source: https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/LUR@WEO/OEMDC/ADVEC/WEOWORLD/JPN

The United States Unemployment rate is now equal to Brazil.  Other countries who have faced COVID lockdowns such as Germany and the UK have not had as much of a change as the US.  China is the only country to decrease the unemployment rate.  People who still have employment are either essential workers or jobs that accommodated them to work from home.  1 in 5 Americans who had employment, lost it due to coronavirus. Some positions terminated while some companies forced to put their employees on hold, and when the weeks turned into a month, the anger was palpable.  People protested, wanting to return to their jobs or owners fighting for the survival of their business.   We as Americans have invested years of blood, sweat, and tears into our livelihoods, and we realized that we had to return to work.   The problem remains, how to make that happen without allowing the virus to spread out of control.

Finances – While the United States has been the most exceptional economy for more than a decade, we could lose that status. Increased national debt and the loss of employment will have an impact on the GDP.  The actual financial burden with the pandemic and its effect on the US has only begun.  At the beginning of the year, our economy was strong.  Business experts are talking about a recession that could rival the great depression.  One billionaire believes the United States will suffer an economic depression if the lockdowns last for a year.  The United States was already trying to balance saving lives and saving the economy back at the end of March.

Meanwhile, two professors at Northwestern University predicted the costs of not closing down non-essential businesses and allowing the virus to spread unchecked would have been more expensive than closing non-essential businesses. They were not alone in their predictions.  In the US and abroad, experts weighed in on what the best course of action would be. Investors are now predicting a 3.9% fall in U.S. GDP in 2020.

All this stress creates mental fatigue from the pandemic.  The kind that disrupts sleep and changes your appetite.  Psychological stress affects your ability to concentrate and contributes to other symptoms like headaches, muscle aches, and abdominal pains.  It is new stress, and our country unprepared.  Our food banks are in high demand, the unemployment offices that process payments unable to keep up, and the federal government was providing a stimulus intended to offset the financial strains are giving away money to corporations and institutions that do not need it.  While some large chain restaurants and sports franchises have already said they will return the money, one educational institution has already declared they will keep the money and use it for students.  If you don’t acknowledge the mental strain, you are in denial.  Denial itself is a psychological mechanism to try and protect oneself from facts.  When facts are too painful to admit, denial is a coping mechanism to allow you to continue to function, to move on.

Front line health care professionals are working extra hours – the physical demands of caring for more patients in hot zones day after day contributes to fatigue.  The post-traumatic disorder is already presenting in some of them from witnessing more deaths than usual.  It also gives a risk of suicide as we learned of one emergency room physician who got COVID, recovered, returned to work, and ultimately took her own life.  Nonessential workers are also affected.   They are at home, getting restless and weary as they watch the news, interact on social media, and worry about the safety of their loved ones.   In some hot zones, they are returning to work.  They now have to worry about how they can do their job safely and must plan a new work environment to reduce the chances of spreading infection.

 

What follows are some of the lives lost or changed due to COVID-19.  The loss of these heroes affects their loved ones, their neighbors, the communities they served, and our world:

Police officers – https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/senior-detention-officer-officer-of-23-years-man-of-faith-dead/

Paramedics – https://www.ems1.com/coronavirus-covid-19/articles/covid-19-ems-deaths-jk5zWFziwYVYUaM4/

Store workers – https://www.eater.com/2020/4/7/21212135/grocery-workers-are-dying-from-coronavirus-trader-joes-walmart

https://www.kcra.com/article/he-was-a-healthy-man-family-mourns-safeway-worker-who-died-of-covid-19/32179508#

Meatpackers – https://www.usnews.com/news/healthiest-communities/articles/2020-05-01/cdc-nearly-5-000-meat-plant-workers-infected-by-coronavirus

Doctors – https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/new-jersey-er-doctor-dies-one-week-after-exhibiting-covid-19-symptoms/2354084/

Nurses – https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/21/us-nurses-who-died-coronavirus-honored-white-house-protest/2996839001/

Physician Assistants – https://www.military.com/daily-news/2020/03/31/guardsman-who-died-covid-19-remembered-1st-responder-passion-serve.html

Nurse Practitioners – fortunately, no deaths reported https://www.11alive.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/georgia-nurse-survives-covid19-battle/85-37c7b703-fe2f-41d3-b62f-f4a6ee2a838d

Nurse Anesthetists – thankfully, no deaths reported – https://www.nola.com/news/coronavirus/article_25b835c0-7b65-11ea-ab5c-67ceca2dba77.html

Respiratory Therapists – https://www.local10.com/news/local/2020/04/24/partner-of-fallen-healthcare-worker-says-they-need-more-protection-from-coronavirus/

Journalists – https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/29/us/maria-mercader-death-trnd/index.html

The journalists and colleagues we’ve lost to the coronavirus

https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/dozens-journalists-have-died-coronavirus-march-1-group-reports

Politicians – https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackbrewster/2020/04/07/these-34-us-lawmakers-have-tested-positive-for-covid-19/#378ee12d46d9

https://www.newscenter1.tv/south-dakota-state-representative-bob-glanzer-dies-at-74/

TSA employees – https://www.khou.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/fifth-tsa-employee-dies-of-coronavirus-as-more-than-500-have-tested-positive/285-8910f312-fd8e-418a-acc6-6ca303474a05

Overall Medical workers:  https://www.businessinsider.com/healthcare-workers-who-died-with-the-coronavirus-2020-4?op=1#douglas-linn-hickok-57-a-physician-assistant-and-new-jersey-national-guardsman-became-the-first-us-military-service-member-to-die-from-the-coronavirus-7

Overall memorials: https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2020/health/coronavirus-victims-memories/

When does the pandemic improve?  It could dramatically improve with successful treatments.   Finding effective antiviral medicines would allow for less severe outcomes.  A successful vaccine would prevent illness.   Herd immunity.  Even the possibility of finding a post-exposure prophylactic medication that is mostly safe and lessen the severity of disease would dramatically change things.  Until then, defense remains our best strategy.  Good luck in avoiding exposure to coronavirus in America.  Recent data shows you have had it with the shelter in place recommendations.  The latest guidelines implemented by the CDC to safely return us to work suppressed by the White House task force.  Some Americans are unwilling to wear masks when out in public but eager to protest and visibly display assault weapons to make their voices heard.  The concept of comprehensive testing before Americans returned to work seems to have lost traction.   America is suffering, and it will continue to do so in the unforeseen future as we will are unwilling to help stop the spread.  What we do here in the US has implications for others all around the globe. Our actions as a country will not only affect our economy but will have a ripple effect on other countries that rely upon the US for their country to function.  Many innovators and scientists are finding solutions to these complex problems.  Keep them in your prayers, for they are the ones who will save lives and decrease the suffering.  Our government had the opportunity to prevent the devastation of this pandemic, but that window of opportunity closed a long time ago.  At this time, our politicians can only react as prevention was not enough of a priority.

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Published 5/17/2020 at 8:30 am EST

Paul Connor

About Paul Connor

Nationally Certified Physician Assistant.
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