Lockdown rules are loosening amid the coronavirus pandemic, but many questions still remain. How safe is it to see our friends? Do we still need to strictly abide by social-distancing policies and wear masks? What is the best medically-supported ways we can maintain physical and mental health? Although we’re living in uncertain times, the ways in which we can stay safe have never been clearer - just ask these professionals.
Four medical students from around the world - Romina Hashemizadeh, Madeleine Silverstein, Vida Seyedkazemi and Hailey Barab - spoke exclusively with GLAMOUR South Africa about the current health crisis, and what people should know as the situation continues to change and gradually improve.
These women - who are preparing to dedicate their lives in service of others - have a very unique take on the situation, and how the world has reacted. Get all your questions answered and learn the facts as the minds of tomorrow walk you through everything you need to know.
GLAMOUR: How can we stay safe? How often should we wash hands, wear masks, etc.?
Vida Seyedkazemi: The public may be opening up, but that doesn’t mean Covid is gone. It is still important to watch for the safety of yourself and others by maintaining social-distancing, wearing a mask in public, and limiting unessential activities. There is still no approved vaccine yet and the chances of spreading and obtaining Covid are still high.
Romina Hashemizadeh: It is important now more than ever to keep washing your hands whenever you can! Something I've been doing is keeping individually wrapped alcohol wipes and mini hand sanitizer in my car and purse. That way after a grocery run, I can immediately sanitize my hands and phone before touching anything else! This is something you can do when places like restaurants and shops start opening up. Wearing a mask prevents a sick person from potentially spreading the virus to those around them. Since COVID-19 can have a longer asymptomatic period, it's important for everyone to wear a mask to prevent the spread.
Hailey Barab: I think it is really important to be cognizant of how many things we touch in a day. When you go to the gas station, think about how many other people have touched the gas pump. When you go to the grocery store, the cart handle. When you pick up food, the pen to sign receipts. Now think about how many times you absent-mindedly touch your face. It's these little things that we normally don't think about that are really crucial.
But I think this pandemic is teaching people critical hygiene skills. Make sure to wash your hands properly, with soap, for at least 20 seconds. I know many states are re-opening and a lot of us are welcoming the change in scenery from our house (or kitchen fridge), but try to limit exposure to others as much as possible out of respect for yourself, your neighbor, and for the safety of those who can't afford to get sick.
Madeleine Silverstein: I would refer to your area’s suggestions on this, but a good recommendation is to wash your hands as often as possible, especially after touching something that is not your own (at the grocery store, door handles, and after using the restroom). I recommend bringing hand sanitizer out with you if you are running errands or going out in public. Please wear a mask if you are near anyone because that will decrease the chance of the respiratory droplets infecting you. Try to remain physically distant from others, and minimize travel. We will all get through this if we work together (while apart) to improve the health of the community.
GLAMOUR: Is it possible to see friends, but still be socially distant?
RH: It is possible to see friends and still stay socially distant. Some things you can do is plan an outdoor activity, such as go on a hike, or plan a picnic, even sit in someone's backyard and stay socially distant. The key would be to keep group gatherings very small and to stick with the same group of friends. Ideally, those who haven't been able to stay socially distant due to work or other reasons, could wear a mask. Always remember to frequently wash your hands if you're planning to do this!
MS: If you want to see other friends, please remember to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. I would also recommend staying physically distant from your friend as well. Online happy hours are (almost) as fun as in person happy hours! If either of you are feeling symptomatic, it would be best to postpone seeing each other in person. Also, you could possibly be someone with COVID, but asymptomatic (without symptoms). It is best to avoid in person activities.
GLAMOUR: What are some activities that are good to keep your mind stimulated during the lockdown?
VS: Exercising is not only key for our physical health, but equally important for our mental health. Even if it is 30 minutes a day, getting a fresh breath of air in the outdoors or going on a walk can improve blood circulation, boost endorphins, and give you extra energy to tackle daily chores.
RH: Find a new hobby! I've recently gotten more passionate about food and drinks- I've watched lots of tutorials, teaching videos, and subscribing to some blogs. Then I've been trying it out myself! It takes up quite a bit of time, and it's a fun thing to do. Now's the time to cook a fancy dish, start training for that 5K, or learning how DIY.
HB: For me, this has been a great opportunity to catch up on reading. I've downloaded the Goodreads app and have been doing book exchanges with my friends, leaving books at their doorsteps.
MS: I know it can be hard to sit at home without work and without activities. I recommend using this time to focus on what you are able to do. There are so many online tutorials or languages you can learn. There are also a lot of great movies and TV shows that you can catch up on. I have been using this time to improve my health both mental and physical. I have started doing yoga in the mornings and aerobics in the afternoon. I also have been learning new healthy recipes, which has been super fun! You can also learn something you have always wanted to learn, or use this time to read a new book!
GLAMOUR: What are your tips for staying healthy - both mentally and physically - during these times?
RH: For those who have been working from home, I would say immersing yourself in your work, project, or studies for a set time period is key. If you work 9am-5pm, keep that schedule going even if you don't have to be at the office. For those who don't work from home or are in school, dedicate some time to reading, taking a free online class, or volunteering online. This will take up a few hours of your day and keep you mentally stimulated. Physically, I highly recommend going on walks. This is a good way to get out of the house. You can go on a longer walk each day, or break it up throughout the day and go on a few 15-20 min walks.
GLAMOUR: How does being in this crisis right now affect how you think about the career you are going to have in the future? Does it make you second guess it, or feel proud to be doing such important work?
VS: Covid-19 has shown the world the impact that one virus could have on the entire world. It goes to show the heroic actions of health workers and those who are at the frontlines of this crisis, providing as much as they can to save those impacted, even with the limited amount of knowledge and resources they had initially.
RH: Being in medical school during a global pandemic has given me a lot of perspective on the sacrifices it truly takes to be a part of the medical community. I've seen countless stories of doctors, nurses, and other parts of the medical team make difficult decisions in order to be committed to their patients, even when risking their own lives. The most inspiring moments came when I saw so many former physicians and nurses come out of retirement in order to come to New York's aid. I am extremely proud to be on a road that will take me to be a part of such a passionate and committed community of healthcare workers.
HB: If anything, this pandemic has made it abundantly clear that I am on the correct career trajectory. I have been feeling eager to be practicing and helping where it is needed most. But overall, the current crisis has given me an even deeper respect and gratitude to my future colleagues working on the front lines, and my motivation to study has been even stronger so that I can be of the utmost use when I join them in practice.
MS: Seeing the healthcare providers who have dedicated their lives to this profession, and put seeing their families on hold to treat patients has been very inspiring. I am so appreciative of the healthcare providers on the frontlines, and feel even more motivation to go into the field. At times, it can be daunting to see our colleagues falling ill to the virus. This career has called me since the very beginning, and if it means putting my health in danger to save many more lives than mine, I am here to serve patients.
GLAMOUR: How does it make you feel, as med students, when you see your peers not taking this as seriously?
MS: It scares me that others are not taking this pandemic seriously. I think that it is absolutely normal to feel frustrated that we are not able to return to our favorite activities, or see friends as often as we are used to. That is okay to feel. I am saddened by the fact that others are putting their social activities at a higher priority than other people’s entire lives. You may not feel ill, however, you may be asymptomatically carrying COVID.
You could spread this to someone who falls ill and dies due to this virus. It is everyone’s duty to protect each other, and make sure we are all staying safe. If you feel ill, self-isolate. Do not go out in public and risk infecting so many other people.
GLAMOUR: What should people know about how their actions directly impact health workers?
VS: It is vital that everyone, regardless of age or health status, take this virus seriously. Health workers in various parts of the world have been overwhelmed with the surplus of patients they have had to treat. Hospitals have been overfilled, there have been shortages of personal protective wear, and life-saving equipment like ventilators have been used at max-capacity. Everyone has an impact to make a difference by following safe protocols, adhering to social distancing, and following regular hand-washing practices. With everyone’s help, we have the power to beat Covid and regain normal life back.
RH: I think the biggest challenge is explaining to people that hospital supplies, equipment, beds, nurses, physicians, etc. not an "infinite number". If there are too many patients at one time that require these services due to COVID, patients that need hospitals for other reasons such as car accidents, heart attacks, etc. would be at a loss since we can only stretch these things so thin. That is the main goal in "flattening the curve", is to prevent this from happening!
HB: It has been really hard to see some of my peers not understanding the severity of this situation or thinking it's a conspiracy theory while hundreds of thousands of lives have already been lost. I'm glad to be a resource to have important conversations and to discuss how to properly extrapolate data and interpret research. Yet overall, I think this pandemic is really highlighting our society's mistrust and lack of health education, which desperately needs improvement.
MS: Your social distancing is a huge help to healthcare workers. If you social distance, and in doing so, decrease the amount of patients infected with COVID, you are helping the burden on the hospitals near your and all over the world. We are facing a challenge of possibly being overloaded with COVID patients and being unable to care for everyone. By social distancing, and wearing a mask, you are directly helping healthcare providers be able to care for as many patients as possible. That being said, if you have symptoms, and they are severe enough to make you concerned, please do not be scared to seek healthcare.
GLAMOUR: For those of you volunteering, what’s it actually like on the frontlines?
MS: I volunteered at a COVID-19 antibody testing station in California. We had a drive thru testing station with phlebotomists drawing blood, and medical students reading the antibody tests. The participants were able to get their COVID antibody positive or negative results soon after testing.
This was incredible to work at, because we wore personal protective equipment and were able to increase the amount of COVID testing in our local community. It was very interesting to see how the antibody tests worked, and I loved working with other healthcare professionals to get a better idea of this virus. Initially, I was worried about getting the virus from a COVID positive participant. However, after the first few, I realized I was safe with the PPE and our strict socially distanced protocol.
GLAMOUR: Are you doing anything virtually to help the medical community too?
RH: I've recently signed up to be a crisis counsellor online since there are so many people going through such a difficult time. Through this program, after our training, we set aside a few hours a week to be available to text those going through a challenging time. This is something I hope to continue throughout my medical school career.
MS: Our medical school classes have moved onto an online platform (including anatomy lab!) I have been focusing on finishing my first year of medical school, and preparing for research this summer.
Got a fitness question? Email Sebastien at [email protected] for his expert opinion!