Hancock Health’s Chief Medical Officer shares the best ways to stay healthy in our “new normal”

Our community is starting to look more like it did before fears about the coronavirus took over. Retail stores are open, restaurants are seating customers again, people are back in offices, and Hancock Health is almost completely back to business as usual.

Day-to-day life is still different, though. We’re wearing masks, staying six feet apart in public, and, at Hancock Health, we’ve instituted new social distancing and sanitizing policies for the safety of everyone who comes through our doors. It’s a new normal for all of us. But what does this “new normal” really mean? And how concerned should we still be about contracting Covid-19 as summer activities start?

“I fully support opening things up,” said Dr. Michael Fletcher, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Hancock Regional Hospital, “and I think we will be successful in keeping the levels of Covid low because I think the majority of people, hopefully, will follow at least some of the guidelines.”

Speaking of guidelines for this new normal, Dr. Fletcher answered questions and offered a few practical tips.

What’s the best way to avoid contracting COVID as we go about day-to-day activities?

A: The risk is still just as great as it always was and we can’t forget that it’s a life-threatening disease, but we now have more knowledge about how to manage it. So wear a mask when you’re in public, keep a distance (six feet) from other people, be very, very consistent with good hand hygiene and, if you’re sick, please stay home.

What should I do if I go out and the people around aren’t wearing masks and observing social distancing guidelines?

A: That’s a good question because I’ve seen a lot of that when I go out. We’ve just got to observe those guidelines—wearing masks, staying six feet apart, not touching our faces, and cleaning our hands and surfaces—and remember that when we’re in public, that’s our highest risk.

Any tips for people who are going back into their workplaces after three months at home?

A: Just a lot of what I’ve already said about observing social distancing guidelines, hand washing—that is incredibly important—and also keep workspaces clean. Clean off desks, tables, and chairs both when you sit down and when you get up. That way you’re taking care of yourself in the beginning and others when you leave. Also, have the hand sanitizer with you and use it frequently.

What about summer vacations?

A: I’ve got a lot of the same advice for vacations—wash hands, clean surfaces, and wear masks in public places. The other thing is it’s going to be difficult keeping kids from playing with each other on vacations. So, we have to remember that kids, even if they are asymptomatic, can expose their parents. We also need to be aware that we are starting to see some concerning symptoms in children who contract COVID, so they need to be careful, too. On the other end of the spectrum, we have vulnerable older folks who we really need to make sure we’re not spreading it to.

Is it safe to go to the doctor or the hospital if there’s a medical emergency?

A: It’s very safe. We’ve always been infectious disease experts, so we’re good at stopping their spread and we’ve got all kinds of precautions in place. Each office has processes for determining whether we can handle a patient’s issue with a virtual visit or if we need to bring patients into the office—and we have social distancing and sanitizing protocols in all of our offices. As for the emergency room, that’s one of the most important messages to get across: If a person is having a stroke, heart attack or other serious medical issue, they should call 911 and come to the emergency room. Their risk of having a serious problem, or even dying, is many times greater if they don’t seek the care they need and their risk of getting COVID at the hospital is small.

What should be done now if someone has COVID-like symptoms or is exposed to it?

A: The answer is almost the same as it’s always been: Call your doctor and follow his or her recommendations. Most people, 80 percent, can still recover at home but, if you need to come to the hospital, we have a respiratory triage clinic at Hancock. It’s separated from other parts of the hospital and allows us to treat and test patients. One of the things we’ve learned a little more about is when people should get tested if they think they’ve been exposed to COVID. Don’t get tested on the first day but still self-quarantine at home because, if you do have it, you could expose others. But tests are much more effective on the eighth day after exposure.

How long is this “new normal” going to last and when will we be able to go back to actual normal life?

A: My opinion is that this phase is going to last six to 18 months—for the foreseeable future and until we get a vaccine or herd immunity. It’s good that we’re already seeing some good treatments that are helping us have better outcomes with critical patients. But, still, most of us haven’t been exposed to COVID and, therefore, don’t have immunity. It’s just important to remember that it is a life-threatening illness and, even if you’re asymptomatic, older people and people with chronic diseases are especially vulnerable.

How will flu season affect the situation?

A: I think there’s a possibility that flu season could actually be better than usual because people are social distancing and washing their hands more often. The flu vaccine normally becomes available in September each year, but I usually like to wait until October or even November to get it because it will last longer.

Would you sum up how you’re feeling about the “new normal” and the course it’s taking in our community?

A: I think we really need to get out and just start living and learning. Even though there’s some risk, I think we need to be cautious and test the waters and see how far we can get back to normal. I really believe that if everybody is very consistent with taking precautions like hand washing, not touching our faces, and social distancing, we can resume much of what we did before in society and be very safe.

With that message from Dr. Fletcher, we hope this has been helpful in answering your questions about what the “new normal” means in our community. We also hope you have a happy, healthy, and safe summer. And, as always, if you have any questions, contact us!

Dr. Michael Fletcher, of Hancock Internal Medicine, can be reached at 317-462-6662. His office is located at 1 Memorial Square, Suite 2200, Greenfield.