Public health community leaders say COVID-19 prevention efforts are working, but it’s not over

  • A sign along Route 124 in New Ipswich warns visitors of the high COVID-19 risk posed by a visiting evangelical group that told town officials they wouldn't follow the state's social distancing guidelines. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/5/2020 3:58:44 PM

Simple COVID-19 prevention measures including hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing are keeping the Monadnock region healthy, and residents experiencing “pandemic fatigue” shouldn’t give up yet, according to the executive council of the Leadership Council for a Healthy Monadnock, at a recent meeting, 

The Leadership Council for a Healthy Monadnock is comprised of 15 community leaders representing the Monadnock Region’s public health-affiliated organizations and programs, from the hospitals to the Keene YMCA to Monadnock Christian Ministries. The group comprises a cross section of public health initiatives, from direct physical and mental healthcare to improvements in healthy food and physical activity access, income and education improvements, and substance misuse prevention.

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the group continues to promote mask wearing, hand washing, and standing at least six feet away from others as the way to minimize adverse health effects. That’s the good news, and the bad news, according to LCHM members. The good news is that those basic prevention techniques seem to be working – the bad news is that the community is getting tired of taking the precautions to prevent a pandemic as months wear on.

“There are people who are tired of wearing masks. There are people who don’t want to wear masks. Realize that we are close. We just need to hunker down and keep pushing through with this,” Peterborough Fire Chief Ed Walker said. Even though it’s difficult, it’s important for people to keep following prevention guidelines for a little while longer, he said.  “As a whole, we’re doing very well as a community and as a region… The way to continue that way is to continue following the guidelines,” he said, by wearing a mask, staying away from others in public areas, and limiting contact with people outside the household.

The Monadnock region’s ongoing success in keeping COVID-19 cases low illustrates a common paradox in public health, Vice President of the Center for Population Health at Cheshire Medical Center Shawn LaFrance said: it’s hard to appreciate the importance of prevention efforts when they succeed, since it’s easier to notice catastrophes than it is to notice when nothing bad happens. 

“The cumulative effect of this is more stress for people,” CEO of Monadnock Family Services Phil Wyzik said. Initial reactions of shock and fear have subsided and been replaced with other disruptions as local residents experience  job loss, food insecurity, domestic violence, and other issues as a result of the pandemic. There’s been more activity in MFS’s mental health emergency department during every month of the pandemic than in January, he said. “It’s a signal that people are under a lot of stress,” Wyzik said.

Several LCHM members representing health care organizations reported fatigue among their employees as months wear on, particularly those who have to be extra vigilant at home in order to protect the vulnerable populations they serve on the job. It’s important to ask how colleagues, family, and friends are doing, members said, and to remember that the pandemic is wearing on everyone in different ways. 

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