LETTER – How do we address the psychological and emotional costs of COVID-19?

Dear editor,

Most of us are now well aware of the tremendous damage that a world pandemic can inflict.

Or are we?

The measurable costs are bombarding us daily. Exact numbers are available for virtually all health aspects (number of infections, number of deaths, number of hospitalizations, number of health care workers infected, number of long-term care facilities involved, etc.) .

We are also inundated with exact numbers that indicate economic costs (numbers of unemployed, numbers of closed businesses, dollars lost in various sectors, dollars spent on recovery aid programs, etc.). So the damage done is well documented in most basic “health or wealth” areas. But the loss to our humanity can never be measured.

We have, usually with good intentions, inflicted devastating emotional damage to ourselves in an effort to “keep the numbers down.” Families have been separated for months by border closures. People are afraid to leave their homes in response to public warning messages. Grandparents have been unable to hug their grandchildren. Marriage celebrations have been cut back or even curtailed entirely. Remembrance ceremonies are either nonexistent, delayed indefinitely, or vastly different. Visiting with hospitalized loved ones has been reduced to waving through a window or sending some sort of “virtual” message of support. Although “we are all in this together”, our efforts to keep ourselves and our fellow citizens virus-free has done serious damage to exactly what makes us “together” in the first place.

I understand the need to reduce the chances of transmission for this deadly virus. I also believe that measures such as those I mentioned will help in that regard. However, as various levels of government dispense much-needed dollars to help alleviate economic suffering, we now need to look more closely at trying harder to alleviate psychological and emotional suffering. Our humanity is at stake.

Maybe we could be devising protocols for exceptional cases where rapid turnaround testing could allow personal interactions. Could we have portable isolation tents while awaiting testing results? Could we have COVID-free medical travel permits to reunite families? We need to go beyond saying what we can’t do and imagine what we might do.

The most public example is long-term care residents who need and deserve more than a window wave or a happy face on a smartphone. Even recently instituted “touch-less visits”, although a noble effort, leave residents well short of the intimate contact that, for some, is all that sustains them. Their family hugs may define their quality of life. Without them- what’s left? It is a human tragedy beyond belief.

Surely we can do better. We must do better.

Neil H. Ross,

Black Creek

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