I get lots of COVID-19 questions. From my newspaper readers, on my radio show, from my Facebook page — you name it, the questions come in.
Now, I have something I call COVID-esia. That’s amnesia from living so long with the impact of COVID-19.
I saw someone the other day who I hadn’t seen in a while. I said, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in months.” They countered, “Hey, you haven’t seen me in a year and a half.”
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I think we all suffer, in some way, from COVID-esia. But that’s not a side effect from having COVID-19. It’s a side effect of good public health practices — staying isolated when a pandemic is raging.
So let’s talk about masks … again. Should you wear them? It depends on what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local public health officials advise in your area.
They recently said if you’re in an area with a lot of the delta variant, you should wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status. They also said children in grades K-12 should cover their faces. That’s a marked reversal from the CDC’s previous stance that fully vaccinated people need not mask up.
So is it the right message? We know that more than 96 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 are the unvaccinated. We know we still have to convince those on the fence about the vaccine that it’s useful.
I’m ignoring the vociferous anti-vaccinators here because many of them are against vaccines for measles, pertussis, polio and tetanus. If we still needed to immunize for smallpox — which was eradicated years ago by mass worldwide vaccinations — they’d probably be against that, too. I know I can’t convince that crowd.
So one argument is that many who are on the fence will think they shouldn’t do it because they still have to wear a mask. They’re ignoring that they’re still protected when they’re vaccinated. The issue from the CDC point of view is not just that vaccinated people can get sick but that they can spread it to others, especially the unvaccinated.
Then there are situations where you put yourself at risk. I would have loved to go to the Deer District in Milwaukee when the Bucks won the NBA championship, but I knew that the delta variant, a humdinger that spreads like wildfire, would probably just be lurking in that 80,000-person crowd. Viruses mutate. That’s how they survive. And the biggest spreader becomes the biggest winner. It dominates. That’s evolution, folks.
The answer is clear: Get your shots. If you know someone who is on the fence, then gently cajole them to get vaccinated. If they’re a serious anti-vaccinator who went down the rabbit hole, you could still try. Information is king here. The more we vaccinate, the better off we all are. When it comes to wearing a mask, use your head and do what’s right for you and your family. And if your local public folks say wear a mask then, it’s up to you to make the right decision.
Next, let’s talk about the “long haulers.” These are people who have had COVID-19 and are still dealing with its after-effects months later. This is a big issue.
I have a patient who is a long hauler. He tells me roses now smell like stinky garbage to him. He works as a guard in our local hospital where people bring in flowers. Food doesn’t taste as good, he says. And it’s weird, he notes, because one day it’s on and one day it’s off.
And that’s not the worst side effect. Fatigue, difficulty concentrating, weakness, a whole list of things that can be awful — especially in younger people, who seem to be more affected.
The frightening thing — and what I worry about most — is that COVID-19 crosses the brain blood barrier. This is the firewall the brain sets up to keep harmful things from entering the most important organ we have.
There is a new theory that COVID-19, because it causes so many brain changes including sense of smell, just might cause Alzheimer’s disease. We might be seeing COVID-19 dementia or COVID-19 memory loss down the line. If that’s the case, then this virus is even more catastrophic than we ever thought.
My spin: Obviously, get immunized. But also be a good patriotic citizen and talk to everyone who isn’t vaccinated and, in a gentle way, try to get them to do it. Don’t give up.
One last thing here — I see a lot of smokers in my practice. Why? Because smokers have more medical problems. Every smoker knows it’s bad for them. Every one. If I tell 20 smokers to quit, statistics show that one or two of them will quit. So I tell every smoker to quit.
Sure, my success rate is low, but if I don’t try, then none of them will quit. If you know someone who hasn’t taken a COVID-19 vaccine, keep trying. And stay well.
This column is the opinion of the author. Dr. Zorba Paster is a family medicine physician practicing in southern Wisconsin. Consult a health care provider for personal health information. The opinions expressed aren’t meant to reflect the views of Wisconsin Public Radio, its employees, the University of Wisconsin-Madison or the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board.
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