EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLEDr. David Neale said “isolation is the second pandemic” and encouraged people to socialize responsibly. Local businesses such as Farmlands, above, continue to find ways to serve clients.
As coronavirus case numbers continue to rise, the darkness expands – both on our physical and mental horizons. We’ve been living in a pandemic for 10 months. The weather’s shifted now; the days are shorter, colder, wetter. And for most all of us, our mental health wanes.
“It took us six months to go from 25,000 cases in Oregon to 50,000 cases. And through November it took us three weeks to build from 50,000 to 75,000. If you’re looking at just that kind of increase, it is pretty dire right now,” said Jason Davis, public information officer for Lane County Health & Human Services, during a briefing Tuesday.
In the past two weeks, cases increased by 177 in Springfield; 28 in Creswell; 23 in Cottage Grove; and four in Pleasant Hill. That brings the all-time count since the pandemic started to 1,152 in Springfield; 123 in Cottage Grove; 84 in Creswell; and 24 in Pleasant Hill, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
There were 292 new cases reported over the Thanksgiving holiday break in Lane County, Davis said, bringing total cases to 4,462 in Lane County; 217 infectious cases; 39 hospitalizations, with nine in intensive-care units; and 43 dead.
“The increase of case numbers and the hospital capacity in Lane County illustrates a situation that we’ve been trying to prevent,” Davis said. With more case numbers, “you start to see those creep into those more vulnerable populations, as well as long-term care facilities.”
Davis said there are 76 outbreaks in the county, and long-term care facilities comprise 35% of that number. “So that’s really the one that we’re most worried about,” he said. “We will expect to see more long-term COVID cases.”
Outbreak records from OHA show a four-case outbreak in Creswell Health & Rehabilitation Center on Oct. 31 and a 10-case outbreak in Spring Valley assisted Living in Springfield on Nov. 9. There were no deaths reported.
“Unfortunately, once COVID-19 gets into a long-term care facility it can be very problematic and spread very rapidly … and is not necessarily indicative of the way our long-term care facilities manage COVID prevention measures; it’s really just a product of our community spread.” Part of the governor’s new guideline, Davis said, is making visitation as safe as possible through an outdoor component of limited visitation.
“Certainly the cases that we’ve seen amongst employees of long-term care facilities test positive,” Davis said. “They were not engaged in risky behaviors necessarily; it’s just a highly infectious virus … So that’s where we have to look at our community-wide strategy that’s going to protect those long-term care facility workers, and by virtue of that protect the people who are living in those facilities.”
Local doctors and health officials say that mental health stressors have become so momentous through COVID-19 that more and more people are seeking treatment for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, especially among the elderly.
“We’re in the midst of a national disaster that’s just been going on and on,” said David Neale, a licensed professional counselor at PeaceHealth. “People are still kind of in shock, not really knowing how to navigate through these current circumstances. Even the best of us are having some experience of depression or anxiety related to the pandemic,” Neale said. “It’s almost a universal thing.
“Isolation is the second pandemic,” Neale said, and is most common among the elderly and those who live alone.
It’s not only the death tolls, Neale said. It’s also “the loss of family time, loss of gathering spaces for some people, the loss of employment, the loss of financial security. People can’t access churches and their spiritual practice or loss of holiday traditions, or comfort with traveling. So the losses that people are experiencing are really profound.”
Dr. Damon Armitage at Camas Swale Medical Center in Creswell said that “the increased rates of depression and anxiety for this lockdown are real, and it’s something we’re definitely seeing reflected in the community with increased rates of anxiety, depression and suicide,” he said. “We thought this (virus) was just going to be around for a little while … when we move stress from the acute phase into a chronic phase like this, it changes the dynamic for a lot of people.”
Neale said that at PeaceHealth, his office is seeing an increase in anxiety disorders, too, and has seen “more elderly folks come for treatment. I’ve seen an increase in obsessive behaviors as well, and that makes perfect sense to me,” Neale said. “I’m personally more obsessive about things now than I’ve ever been; I don’t want to touch door knobs here at the hospital.”
We’re at the point in the year where it gets dark by 5 p.m., it rains much of the day, and the gyms are closed. The barriers to maintaining physical health may seem daunting, but are not impossible to overcome, Armitage said.
“That’s a very real struggle that we’re all facing,” Armitage said.
Carving out a small space to unroll a yoga mat, do some push-ups and calisthenics, or an at-home CrossFit routine will help maintain physical activity and can help ward off depression, he said.
Neale and Armitage say people can help stay upbeat by also eating well-balanced meals, maintaining a proper sleeping schedule, and socialize as best they can by phone, video calls or emails.
Armitage urges people to keep in contact with loved ones. While some people display obvious signs, others might have more sublte behaviors.
“A lot of times there are some external markers. For people who are normally very high performers, if all of a sudden they’re not doing well at work or at school, coming in late or not showing up when they’re normally very punctual,” those can be signs of depression, he said.
Other indicators may be a change in routine, performance, or becoming less sociable than usual.
“You have to be alert to some of our friends who may be struggling a little bit more, and those in our community that may need help,” Armitage said.
It’s also important for people, especially those who live alone, to “cultivate ways to entertain oneself. Journaling, reading, self-education … can offset some of that isolation,” Neale said. “Build a new mastery, learn a new skill at home.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve survived thus far. And I think we’re really doing the best we can. What this has drawn out in us is our resiliency, as a community and our strength. Having an attitude of optimism. Carrying hope is important.”