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Psychologist: COVID-19 fatigue is real, has mental and physical ramfications

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, people rallied to support health care and essential workers.

Hearts appeared in people’s windows. Ads ran on the internet and TV championing staying at home and flattening the curve. International videos of people singing from their balconies while quarantining went viral.

People had hope.

Six months later, the threat of the coronavirus remains, and there’s no end in sight. Those messages of optimism and togetherness have dwindled, leaving people uncertain and frustrated.

Michelle Rose-Barajas, a psychologist with Mercyhealth, said stress continues to build amid the pandemic, and that has fueled feelings of anger, exhaustion, depression, anxiety and other emotions.

For some people, it means throwing in the proverbial towel, she said.

“Some people throw their hands up and say, ‘I don’t care if I get COVID. I don’t want to live like this anymore,’” Rose-Barajas said.

The psychological phenomenon of ignoring safety precautions during times of prolonged stress existed long before the pandemic, she said.

Health officials on the local, state and national levels have attributed rising numbers of moderate and severe cases of COVID-19 partly to what officials have described as “COVID fatigue.”

People who have lived with the pandemic for months have grown tired, and they are either rejecting or relaxing on safety guidelines. Some might have started attending social gatherings, visiting local bars with friends without wearing masks, or washing their hands less frequently.

All of those behaviors can help spread the virus.

COVID fatigue is a new term for what mental health professionals have long called “caution fatigue,” which occurs when people’s minds and bodies become numb to or accepting of prolonged danger or stress, Rose-Barajas said.

People feel they have lost control, which can lead them to let their guard down as they seek a sense of normalcy.

The phenomenon is evident in people who have endured wars or lived in places with ongoing conflict, Rose-Barajas said.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Rock County has continued to climb since the start of September.

The county has 736 active and confirmed cases of the coronavirus, up 515 since Sept. 1 and up 116 from four days ago, according to data from the Rock County Public Health Department.

Monday saw the most reported new cases in a given day in Rock County with 77, which brought the countywide total to 2,860.

Rock County health officials Friday said cases are increasing so quickly the health department cannot keep up on contact tracing. Officials have urged residents to follow precautions and to let people who they have been around know if they have been exposed.

Health officials nationwide have said a lack of consistent adherence to and enforcement of guidelines such as mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing has contributed to steady rises in cases.

“People need to keep with it (safety guidelines),” Rose-Barajas said.

Varying opinions on following prevention strategies, which are supported by science, can cause schisms in people’s social circles and frustration, anger and anxiety, Rose-Barajas said.

A sharp political divide and the upcoming presidential election have made some people’s thoughts about the pandemic more intense, Rose-Barajas said, and the upcoming winter and holiday seasons could bring additional stress.

It’s important for people to balance the risk of getting themselves and others sick and the need for social interaction, Rose-Barajas said.

She said people should prepare for limited in-person gatherings for the holidays and look to find joy in traditions, such as sending Christmas cards or chopping down a Christmas tree.

It is important to identify goals and participate in activities that bring joy, she said.

Rose-Barajas encourages people to reach out to health care providers if feelings of hopelessness, sadness or anxiety reach levels that are abnormal for them.

“Know a lot of this is normal, but it is never wrong to ask for help, especially if it impacts you on a daily basis,” she said.

Trump, still infectious, back at White House -- without mask


President Donald Trump staged a dramatic return to the White House on Monday night after leaving the military hospital where he was receiving an unprecedented level of care for COVID-19. He immediately ignited a new controversy by declaring that despite his illness the nation should not fear the virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans—and then he entered the White House not wearing a protective mask.

Trump’s message alarmed infectious disease experts and suggested the president’s own illness had not caused him to rethink his often-cavalier attitude toward the disease, which has also infected the first lady and several White House aides, including new cases revealed Monday.

Landing at the White House on Marine One, Trump gingerly climbed the South Portico steps, removed his mask and declared, “I feel good.” He gave a double thumbs-up to the departing helicopter from the portico terrace, where aides had arranged American flags for the sunset occasion. He entered the White House, where aides were visible milling about the Blue Room, without wearing a face covering.

The president left Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where his doctor, Navy Cdr. Sean Conley, said earlier Monday that the president remains contagious and would not be fully “out of the woods” for another week but that Trump had met or exceeded standards for discharge from the hospital. Trump is expected to continue his recovery at the White House, where the reach of the outbreak that has infected the highest levels of the U.S. government is still being uncovered.

Still, just a month before the election and anxious to project strength, Trump tweeted before leaving the hospital, “Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!” And in case anyone missed his don’t-worry message earlier, he rushed out a new video from the White House.

“Don’t be afraid of it,” Trump said of the virus. “You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines.” His remarks were strong, but he was taking deeper breaths than usual as he delivered them.

Trump’s nonchalant message about not fearing the virus comes as his own administration has encouraged Americans to be very careful and take precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the disease as cases continue to spike across the country. For more than eight months, Trump’s efforts to play down the threat of the virus in hopes of propping up the economy ahead of the election have drawn bipartisan criticism.

“We have to be realistic in this: COVID is a complete threat to the American population,” Dr. David Nace of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said of Trump’s comment.

“Most of the people aren’t so lucky as the president,” with an in-house medical unit and access to experimental treatments, added Nace, an expert on infections in older adults.

“It’s an unconscionable message,” said Dr. Sadiya Khan of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “I would go so far as to say that it may precipitate or worsen spread.”

Likewise, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who spent more than 90 minutes on the debate stage with Trump last week, said during an NBC town hall Monday night that he was glad Trump seemed to be recovering well, “but there’s a lot to be concerned about—210,000 people have died. I hope no one walks away with the message that it’s not a problem.”

Biden, who tested negative for the virus on Sunday, said in an interview with WPLG Local 10 News in Miami: “I saw a tweet he did, they showed me, he said ‘Don’t let COVID control your life.’” Tell that to all the “families that lost someone.”

There was pushback from a prominent Trump political supporter as well.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that Trump had “let his guard down” in his effort to show that the country was moving beyond the virus and had created “confusion” about how to stay safe.

Dr. Conley said that because of Trump’s unusual level of treatment so early after discovery of his illness he was in “uncharted territory.” But the doctor also was upbeat at an afternoon briefing and said the president could resume his normal schedule once “there is no evidence of live virus still present.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can be contagious for as many—and should isolate for at least—10 days.

Trump’s arrival back at the White House raised new questions about how the administration was going to protect other officials from a disease that remains rampant in the president’s body. Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced she had tested positive for the virus Monday morning and was entering quarantine.There were also lingering questions about potential long term effects to the president—and even when he first came down with the virus

Conley repeatedly declined to share results of medical scans of Trump’s lungs, saying he was not at liberty to discuss the information because Trump did not waive doctor-patient confidentiality on the subject. COVID-19 has been known to cause significant damage to the lungs of some patients. Conley also declined to share the date of Trump’s most recent negative test for the virus—a critical point for contact tracing and understanding where Trump was in the course of the disease.

Only a day earlier, Trump suggested he had finally grasped the true nature of the virus, saying in a video, “I get it.” But then on Sunday afternoon, he ventured out of the hospital while contagious to salute cheering supporters by motorcade—an outing that disregarded precautions meant to contain the virus.

At the hospital, doctors revealed that his blood oxygen level had dropped suddenly twice in recent days and that they gave him a steroid typically only recommended for the very sick.

Trump’s experience with the disease has been dramatically different from most Americans, who do not have access to the same kind of monitoring and care. While most must cope with their symptoms—and fear of whether they’ll take a turn for the worse—at home and alone, Trump has been staying in the presidential suite of one of the nation’s best hospitals and has been given experimental drugs not readily available to the public. He returns to the White House where there is a team of doctors on call with 24-hour monitoring.

Trump was leaving the hospital after receiving a fourth dose of the antiviral drug remdesivir Monday evening, Conley said. He will receive the fifth and final dose Tuesday at the White House.

Vice President Mike Pence returned to the campaign trail moments after Trump announced he would soon leave the hospital. The vice president boarded Air Force Two to fly to Salt Lake City, where he is to face off against Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday.

Trump, in his new video, defended his decision to repeatedly flout his own administration’s guidelines to slow the spread of the virus, including by holding rallies with thousands of largely maskless supporters.

Apparently referring to any potential danger to himself rather than others, he said, “I stood out front. I led. Nobody that’s a leader would not do what I did.” He added, “And I know there’s a risk, there’s a danger. But that’s OK. And now I’m better. And maybe I’m immune, I don’t know.”

Even before Trump’s motorcade outing on Sunday, some Secret Service agents had expressed concern about the lackadaisical attitude toward masks and social distancing inside the White House, but there isn’t much they can do, according to agents and officials who spoke to The Associated Press.

Trump’s aggressive course of treatment included the steroid dexamethasone and the single dose he was given Friday of an experimental drug from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that supplies antibodies to help the immune system fight the virus. Trump on Friday also began a five-day course of remdesivir, a Gilead Sciences drug currently used for moderately and severely ill patients. The drugs work in different ways—the antibodies help the immune system rid the body of virus, and remdesivir curbs the virus’ ability to multiply.

Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 6, 2020

Ronald “Ronnie” Anden

John M. Byrum

Mary Casey

Davie A. Fye

Dale Richard Gray

Wayne E. Jackson

Bradley A. Kessler

Wilma Matchett

Charles “Catfish” Millard

Richard D. Mitchell

Bruce K. Nagle

Norma R. Nitz

Dean E. Taylor

Dorothy “Dot” M. Weber

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Racine Democrat challenges Rep. Steil for House seat

Republican Rep. Bryan Steil of Janesville is seeking a second term in Congress, and Democrat Roger Polack of Caledonia hopes to unseat him in the Nov. 3 elections.

Both men are lawyers. Steil works for a manufacturer in Milton and Polack for a large law firm in Washington, D.C.

Polack, a Racine native and UW-Madison graduate, reportedly owns two houses in the D.C. area, where his wife maintains a dental practice. He moved back to the district last November.

Polack tells of growing up the son of a father who was a factory worker/UAW member/roofer with mental health problems and a mother who eventually became the family’s sole breadwinner.

Steil is the son of a partner in the Brennan Steil law firm of Janesville. The Janesville native is a member of St. John Vianney Catholic Church. He says he has been “a steadfast advocate for Wisconsin values.”

The winner will serve two years in the House of Representatives.

The candidates answered these questions. Answers were edited for clarity and brevity.

Q: Once a coronavirus vaccine is successfully deployed, what next steps should the federal government take?

Polack: “Assuming a coronavirus vaccine is trial-tested, approved and manufactured, the federal government should coordinate with state and local governments to get it to as many people as possible, free of charge. The process should mirror many of the successful testing sites we’ve seen across the district.

“Until we have a successful vaccine program, we must do more to provide relief and support to small businesses and workers hit hard during this pandemic.”

Steil: “Congress should make targeted investments to eradicate both the health and economic impacts of coronavirus. We must continue providing unprecedented support of our doctors, researchers, and scientists working to develop a safe and effective vaccine.

“I’ve supported legislation to increase funding for COVID-19 vaccine research and development, expand testing capabilities, and help families cope with the financial burdens of this crisis. We must continue working on addressing the health and economic impacts of coronavirus and not allow partisan politics to get in the way of achieving results.”

Q: Candidates in both parties have called for healing in the wake of unrest in Kenosha and elsewhere over Black people killed by police officers. What should that healing look like?

Polack: “The first step is to listen to one another, particularly the African-American community, so we can begin to correct the problems that have led to racial inequality. This involves bringing together municipal government, faith-based organizations, and citizens to come up with solutions—precisely what we’re seeing underway in Kenosha right now.

“We must also pressure the Senate to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which includes provisions that hold officers more accountable for misconduct, ensure the use of body cameras, ban the use of chokeholds, and amend use of force standards. I do not support defunding police. We also have to ensure that small businesses affected by destruction have the resources they need to rebuild and reopen.”

Steil: “We need a unity of purpose to rebuild our community and ensure everyone’s safety. We need to all show families and workers that Kenosha remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We must give law enforcement the tools, resources, and support to do their jobs and protect everyone in our community. Defunding the police is not an option.

“I am a cosponsor of the JUSTICE Act, which allocates funding for body cameras and de-escalation training without hindering law enforcement’s ability to do their job.

“I’ve been on the ground in Kenosha meeting with faith, community, and business leaders, as well as people affected by the violence and destruction. We’ve created a coalition to focus on how we can increase communication and work to address disparities in health, income and education.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement and the charge of systemic racism in the United States?

Polack: “I believe that Black lives matter, and I think we need to acknowledge that systemic racism exists, evidenced by serious disparities in housing security, the wealth gap, and education. ...

“A consistent point I’ve heard from Black community leaders I’ve spoken with in southeastern Wisconsin is the need to reduce the wealth gap Black America experiences. One way to do this is to enact policies that result in greater home ownership and small business ownership for low-income America.”

Steil: “I am focused on strengthening community-law enforcement relations because everyone deserves to feel safe. …

“There are disparities in health, income, and education in our minority communities that must be addressed. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable and accessible health care is critical. It’s why I support federal dollars for Community Health Centers, which provide our most challenged communities with affordable and accessible health-care options.

“We must also ensure that workers and students have the opportunity to obtain the best education and a good paying job. I want every parent to be able to choose the best school for their child, regardless of ZIP code. ...

“I will always support our First Amendment rights. I will also always support good-faith efforts to protect everyone in our community. However, criminal acts are different, and violence cannot be tolerated.”

Q: What are the top two issues for 1st District residents, and how would you address them?

Polack: “My top priorities are getting corporate/big money out of politics and fixing our health care system. Once we end the special interest domination of politics, we can tackle real problems like lowering prescription drug prices, seriously addressing climate change while growing family-supporting jobs and bringing down health care costs.

“Second, I firmly believe access to quality, affordable health care is a human right. We must ensure we have universal health care coverage. I believe we do this by offering a strong public option available on the marketplace while keeping choice available for those that feel secure in their employer-backed plan.”

Steil: “Getting workers back to work and keeping our community safe.

“Coronavirus has attacked our health and economy. Wisconsin workers are out of work through no fault of their own. Getting workers back to work and our economy on the road to recovery is my job No. 1.

“Before COVID-19, we saw record low unemployment and rising wages for workers. We can do it again. We must continue to keep taxes low, create more jobs, and ensure individuals can go to bed at night feeling financially stable.

“I support our men and women in law enforcement. Assuring public safety means supporting those who keep us safe. We can achieve this goal by fixing what’s wrong and improving what’s right.

“Ensuring police departments have funding for body cameras and training is an important step. We should also help police departments retain and hire only the best officers. I am working in Congress to ensure we pass a nonpartisan bill to invest in sound law enforcement.”

Read more election stories at gazettextra.com/election.