By Dr. Anthony Policastro

There is a type of anxiety that occurs in ICU patients after they have recovered. They dealt with their illness. They were carefully monitored at all times. There were sounds from the monitors. There were alerts from the monitors.

Once there is no longer a need for that intense monitoring, they can be moved to a medical unit. The problem is that they now worry that something bad will still happen to them. If it does, they are not monitored. 

How can they be sure that something will not be overlooked? This results in a kind of “what if” type of anxiety. All of this has been well documented in the medical literature.

As we enter the new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see a similar type of anxiety. People are used to staying away from crowded places. They are used to wearing masks. They are used to hand sanitizer. 

When those things are relaxed because of decreased levels of infection, these individuals also develop a “what if” kind of anxiety.

They may still be afraid of crowds. They may still want to wear their masks. They might still want to sanitize their hands after touching things. This is especially true if the individual is high risk.

One wonders what might be done to help ease that anxiety. The first thing to realize is that for these individuals this is a relatively normal reaction. Trying to get them to deny it is not the approach. Trying to get them to deal with the anxiety works better.

It is likely that these individuals have already been vaccinated and received their booster. That would be part of their way of dealing with it. Even if they do not accept it, the vaccine offers them a lot more protection than wearing a mask ever would. That is a good thing.

Even though masks are no longer required, there is nothing that says you cannot wear one if it makes you feel more comfortable. That means that they can continue wearing a mask in public if they feel like doing so. It will not offer more protection than the vaccine does. However, it does offer a security blanket to the individual.

Some of these individuals might think their risk level is higher than it actually is. Therefore, having a conversation with their physician to determine the exact risk level makes sense.

The rest of the population needs to recognize that some individuals feel comfortable wearing a mask. There is not a reason to question why they are doing so. That will only raise the level of anxiety.

It is interesting that former ICU patients and certain individuals can develop the same “what if” type of anxiety. No matter which one we see, our role is to support these individuals.

COVID update- Sussex County remains in the low zone again this week. That means that COVID-19 hospitalizations remain at a low level.

The number of new cases appears to have leveled out. Nationally, they went from 350,000 last week to 261,000 this week. That is only a minor drop. Sussex County went from 170 last week to 266 this week. That rise was not enough to move us from the low zone to the moderate zone. That means that most of the new cases were mild.

Sometime in the next week the death toll from COVID-19 will reach one million Americans in about a two year period of time. With 331 million people in the country, that means that one out of every 331 Americans will have died from COVID-19.

That compares to somewhere between 60,000-80,000 deaths in a two year period from the annual flu season. COVID-19 is clearly not like the flu.

Of course some reports in the media say that the average life expectancy in the U.S. has dropped by 1.8 years because of COVID. Really? That is nothing more than an artificially calculated number.

Before COVID-19 a child born in the U.S. could expect to live to an average age of 78.8 years. The current average age of the population at death after COVID-19 is 77 years.

Does that really mean that babies born in 2022 will live 1.8 years less than babies born in 2020? Absolutely not. It is nothing more than a media outlet trying to grab a headline. They are simply playing with the statistics to get attention.