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Experts offer advice on coping with winter in age of coronavirus

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of medicine and

Dr. Aaron E. Glatt, chairman of medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Dreading winter, shuddering at the thought of spending more time indoors, even if it will be with your nearest and dearest, and even if forecasters predict unusually mild temperatures?

The current La Nina weather pattern, when the east-central Pacific Ocean cools around the equator, should help spare Eastern Seaboard states from powerful storms, forecasters say.

Still, many battle-hardened Long Islanders may not be particularly eager to revisit the predicaments that arose and strengthen the skills they learned after the full-blown arrival of COVID-19 in March flipped the switch on what had been normal and demonstrated just how lethal a virus could be.

And that was when spring was just weeks away, when the outdoors offered not only the safety of fresh air but the delights of milder temperatures and greening vistas — and parents, nearly driven over their limits by the demands of online classes, could look forward to the end of the school year.

And that also was before there were so many deaths to mourn, and so many workers were shed and incomes depressed, all too often along with the money for groceries.

"For many people, the upcoming year really [puts them] at a crossroads, readjusting to their current circumstances," which include not only grief for the relatives and friends taken by COVID-19 but the loss of hopes and dreams for themselves and others, said psychologist Adam Gonzalez, founding director of the Mind-Body Clinical Research Center at Stony Brook Neurosciences Institute.

"It can be easy to get lost in worries about what’s going to happen next," Gonzalez said by telephone, recommending mind-soothing meditation and breathing apps, and yoga.

With the novel coronavirus again on the upswing, scientists urge remaining en garde — though at least some of their earlier cumbersome recommendations, such as disinfecting groceries, have lessened in importance even as the trio of imperatives — masks, washing hands and keeping at least 6 feet apart — increasingly are seen as the best ways to stay healthy until vaccines arrive.

Whatever peacekeeping compromises households may consider, "I would tell you that the most important thing is making sure safety is the No. 1 priority," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of the department of medicine, chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist, Mount Sinai South Nassau, by telephone.

Perhaps consider the irksome restrictions everyone, from singles to young parents to seniors, will face when isolated at home as a path to better negotiating skills.

Just telling a teenager "'No, you can’t leave the house, it’s too dangerous,’ will not lead to a positive outcome," Glatt said. "We have to figure out a way to keep normalcy," he said, urging common sense approaches.

For instance, a pre-pandemic limit on how much time a child can spend on electronic devices may no longer apply if their virtual class is even longer. Online exercise classes or group video chats with peers may well be worthwhile exceptions.

"I think each parent needs to figure out what’s best for them; nothing is absolute," Glatt said. "I think you need to be very fluid."

Except perhaps for the necessity that everyone within the same household or the same school or neighborhood group that gathers in person follows the same antivirus rules, experts said.

Their advice includes the basics — devise healthy eating and exercising plans, explore the neighborhood instead of a distant resort, section off rooms so working parents can supervise children who have outgrown play pens but cannot be left alone, and build in novelty, such as a mystery award every week for mastering a new skill, helping the family technophobe or adhering to antivirus rules.

Children of almost every age can still learn how to take care of themselves and others even if they are attending school or college remotely, Gonzalez advised.

"Assigning responsibility and giving kids different types of roles within the house will help them learn to be more independent and help with the household duties — and learn what it's like to be an adult."

Rather like a well-aged wine, decades of experience dealing with any and all manner of disappointment, stress, grief and failure — hopefully offset by joyous, rewarding, fulfilling and tranquil times — can prove their worth.

"This is one of those times when older may be better," said Kerstin Gerst Emerson, clinical associate professor in the department of health policy and management at the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia. Her March 30 to April 12 survey of 843 people who were at least 60 years old found the 70-plus crowd confident of its ability to endure the COVID-19 era as they already have surmounted untold hardships.

"In this sample, younger people are more stressed, drinking more alcohol, sleeping less, and eating more. They are, however, engaging in more physical activity, which for many is assumed to be a healthy behavior," she wrote in an article: https://iris.paho.org/handle/10665.2/52374

Possibly countering myths about tech-wary seniors, 66% of those surveyed said they were using social media more versus the 45% who upped their telephone calls.

"I actually think people are making more connections," she said, though online chats wholly lack the visceral, memory-creating impact of scent or touch.

"Nothing can replace a hug from a grandma," she said.

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