Category Archives: Pandemic

It’s COVID Booster Time!

Last Spring, my husband and I took our place among the millions of Americans who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, thereby substantially reducing our risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. It was quite an experience!

vaccineWe both took part in the mass vaccination at the Oregon Convention Center. You have never seen such an efficient operation! Volunteers provided assistance with parking, check in, and registration. Medical professionals staffed the 50-75 vaccination tables and received a continuous supply of vaccines from other volunteers. A comfortable seating area afforded the opportunity to cool our jets for 15 minutes to make sure we did not have an adverse reaction. Then it was homeward bound. I was in and out in 30 minutes… along with thousands of other Oregonians.

Unfortunately, quite a number of Americans resist getting vaccinated. Some believe themselves capable of withstanding the infection without medical intervention. Some worry that the vaccine may harm them. Others are under the impression that the vaccine is associated with nefarious intent. I lament those responses both for the risks to their health and to those they may unwittingly infect.

I don’t think vaccines are anything to fear. They’re a marvel of science that leverage the body’s natural defense mechanism to protect itself from infection and disease. They help us get our intruder-specific armaments ready without having us go through a full cycle of infection to get them (or risk disability or death in the process). The two most common ways to make that happen include:

  • Injecting the patient with an inactive version of the virus to give the body a template from which to build its defenses
  • Injecting the patient with a viral agent that is similar to the noxious intruder but for which the body suffers no ill effects

The Pfizer vaccine uses a slightly different methodology to produce an entirely safe and effective response. It injects a custom-designed messenger RNA molecule (mRNA) that’s used to build a protein that simulates the COVID virus. As with the other two mechanisms for inducing an immune response, neither the mRNA nor the associated protein should induce harmful effects. They simply give the body something on which to build a COVID defense force. While this form of vaccine is relatively new, research into mRNA has been around for quite some time. And as witnessed by the pace at which the COVID vaccine was developed, this technology holds the promise of vastly accelerating our ability to respond to new and potentially deadly pathogens.

Alas, our two-shot Pfizer protection attenuates over time. Mercifully, the FDA approved booster shots for seniors and persons with selected medical conditions. Spike just got his booster shot last week and suffered no ill effects. I’m hoping to get mine within the month.

I’m grateful for the dedicated scientists who worked diligently to break the code on COVID-19 and create a vaccine. I’m grateful to the folks who funded the development and to the thousands of volunteers who helped distribute it nationally.

I still wear a mask, maintain social distance, and wash my hands frequently. But I rest easier knowing that I have COVID-19 warriors swimming around in my bloodstream.

The Trouble with Chicken


Chicken used to play a big role in our meal planning. We regularly ate eggs for breakfast, opted for chicken atop our lunchtime salads, and featured chicken most nights for dinner. When I started reading up on diet and nutrition a few years ago, we made the switch to a predominantly whole food plant based diet. So, chicken has fallen out of favor in our household. As it turns out, chicken has also fallen out of favor with epidemiologists and environmentalists, too.

According to the Pew Environmental Group,1 chicken is the most popular meat in America. In the forty years between 1970 and 2010, we doubled our per capita chicken consumption (to 84 pounds annually) while expanding the US population by ~50%. The poultry industry responded by gearing up production and finding ways to bring their products to market at lower cost for producers and consumers. Their key strategy: economies of scale.

Sentience Institute’s US factory farming estimates suggest that we raise 99% of our meat chickens and 98% of our egg-laying chickens in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).2 For chickens, the USDA defines a CAFO as an operation in which 125,000 meat chickens or 82,000 eggs chickens are confined for over 45 days per year. Breeding and specialized feed have enabled chickens to reach their full weight in just 6-7 weeks.

Conditions within factory farms are rather grim. There’s no fresh air or natural sunlight. The animals live beak-to-beak atop their droppings, breathing the ammonia fumes from all their waste. Overcrowding brings on stress which dampens their immune systems and elevates aggressive behavior. (My first case study in business school examined the practically of fitting chickens with blurry contact lenses so they’d be less successful in their attacks on other birds.) A lack of exercise and excess weight puts strain on their muscular-skeletal systems which may give rise to suffering.

If your compassion for chicken life has not been aroused, perhaps your concern for human life might be. According to Dr. Michael Greger,3 these environments are breeding grounds for the frightening emergence of supervirus strains. Hundreds of individuals were infected by the Avian influenza (H5N1) in 1997 for which there was a 50% fatality rate. The 2002 SARS-CoV outbreak claimed 774 victims among 8098 cases, or a 9.5% fatality rate. The 2012 MERS-CoV outbreak claimed 858 deaths among 2499 laboratory-confirmed cases, or a 34.3% fatality rate. These outbreaks were subject to rapid containment because the afflicted parties presented clear manifestations of illness. We have not been so fortunate with COVID-19. Though its fatality rate is far lower than other CoV strains to date, its ease of transmission and prevalence of asymptomatic carriers presents substantial hurdles for containment.

Dr. Greger warns that the worst may be yet to come. An H7N9 virus has managed to jump from poultry to humans, killing 616 of the 1568 infected. While it hasn’t yet acquired the capacity to transmit from human to human, animal factories may present an opportunity for mutation that would activate a human type receptor. If so, the results could be devastating in loss of lives, disruption to supply chains that support life, and massive economic losses.

Even if we were to turn a blind eye to our exposure to deadly viral agents, we should acknowledge the environmental risks posed by CAFOs. Pew Environmental Group tells us that these operations produce an enormous amount of waste that cannot be used productively for cropland nutrients. The excess washes off the land and into local streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. The resultant algae overgrowth creates a hostile environment for fish and other marine life, often creating “dead zones.”

While advocacy groups and regulators are busy figuring out how to adjust factory farming standards to mitigate risk to human and environmental health, there are two simple practices that we can adopt to reverse these unsettling trends:

  • Reduce the demand for poultry by reducing the amount that we consume. (I rarely eat chicken or turkey these days and don’t miss it at all.)
  • Purchase free-range poultry from farmers who raise their animals humanely and safely. (You can generally find these folks at local farmers’ markets.)



Dispelling COVID-19 Myths

The pandemic regularly takes center stage in Zoom calls with friends and family. As I’ve heard varying claims about the disease and its treatment, I decided to consult with the experts to dispel some common myths. My chief sources are the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Myth #1: Since young people aren’t hurt by the disease, they don’t have to worry about getting infected.

Young people generally have immune systems that function better than older folks. As such, they are far less likely to develop symptoms or risk severe consequences or death when infected by COVID-19. HOWEVER, they can become efficient carriers of the disease for weeks and months after exposure. Moreover, the folks with whom they interact also participate in spreading the disease. Somewhere along the line, this chain of infection will reach people who will become seriously ill and/or die. As Dr. Fauci reminds us, we cannot stop the spread of the disease unless we all pull together and do our parts.

Myth #2: The only people who really need to be worry about COVID-19 are those with pre-existing conditions.

The CDC evaluated data on 1.3 million laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the period between January 22 and May 30. They looked at differences in hospitalization rates, ICU admissions, and deaths for patients with and without underlying conditions (e.g., heart disease, hypertension, pulmonary disease, diabetes, renal disease, immunosuppression, obesity). Here’s what they found:

COVID-19 hospitalization and death

Patients with underlying conditions are six times more likely to be hospitalized and twelve times more likely to die from the coronavirus than healthy individuals.

A report from Los Angeles County confirms this data. Over 90 percent of their COVID-19 deaths tied to patients with chronic medical conditions. The report noted that these conditions are commonplace across all age groups. While the majority of deaths were patients over the age of 65, nearly one-fourth were aged 41-64, and three percent were between 18 and 40.

Myth #3: Once we get vaccinated, we won’t have to worry about getting infected with COVID-19.

It is too early to render commentary on either the efficacy or durability of COVID-19 vaccines under development. That data will not be available until the completion of Phase III trials at the earliest. Even then, it will take widespread usage to validate results. As of this writing, Dr. Fauci expressed the following expectation regarding a vaccine’s ability to prevent infection:

“I would be very happy with 70, 75 percent, and I would be accepting of 50 to 60 percent, because that would be value added, superimposed upon, and complementary, to public health measures.”

Stated differently: Even after getting vaccinated, I may still have upwards of a 50% chance of getting infected if exposed to the virus.

Dr. Fauci also noted that scientists do not know how long the protection will last. Like the flu shot, it may simply get us through the worst of the seasonal infection rates. We may need to get booster shots to bolster our immune systems thereafter. Even if we are among the fortunate ones whose bodies respond favorably to inflection, we will still need to implement public health measures to protect those who aren’t so fortunate. Those measures include:

  • Visiting family and friends outdoors whenever possible (although virtual contact is preferred).
  • Wearing masks over the nose and mouth when interacting or sharing space with people who do not live in our households.
  • Maintaining at least 6 feet in social distance from others.
  • Avoiding large gatherings, especially those held indoors.
  • Washing hands thoroughly and often while still avoiding touching our faces.
  • Limiting contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items and using disinfectant to sanitize them.

Myth #4: With accelerated vaccine development, it may not be safe to get inoculated.

Dr. Fauci lays this concern to rest. The vaccines in the current pipeline follow the same safety protocols that have been in effect for decades. Today’s technology enables vaccine development to proceed at a much faster rate than the past. Moreover, the government has made preemptive investment in manufacturing capability to shorten the time between the completion of Phase III trials and availability to the general public.


Meal Planning During the Pandemic

It has been nearly 5 months since our household went into quarantine as a function of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve left the house for walks around the neighborhood, grocery shopping, prescription refills, and medical appointments. Otherwise, we’re doing our best to remain socially distanced from our fellow humans to the extent possible.

I’ll freely admit that I’ve been spoiled during the eleven-and-a-half years that we’ve lived in Beaverton food-wise. I never had to engage in meal planning because we live a very short walk from a really good grocery store. Pre-pandemic, I made a habit of going up there every other day or so, often making food choices in the spur of the moment. We were also blessed with weekly trips to the Beaverton Farmer’s Market for fresh produce and the joy of mingling with our fellow residents in the various stalls. And I never worried about things being out of stock. Worst case, I’d just have to visit a second grocer.

grocery shoppingThere were quite a few shortages during the first month of the pandemic, and yours truly had to figure out how to meal plan and cook to keep our fresh fruits and vegetables from going bad. With a bit of practice, I’ve got a system down that limits grocery shopping to one big trip every other week plus a weekly outdoor drop-in to our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pick-up. There are still shortages, but I’m really impressed by how well our grocers have stepped up to the plate and worked toward keeping their environments safe.

Here are a few short-cuts that we’ve developed to simplify meal planning and procurement:

FIRST: We’ve standardized on two of the three major meals per day. Breakfast consists of cereal (or oatmeal), protein shakes, and fresh fruit. We always make a big salad for dinner with lots of colorful vegetables, beans, nuts, and blueberries. I keep fruit, snack bars, and hummus and crackers on hand for late afternoon snacks.

SECOND: We eat our big meal of the day between 1 and 2 in the afternoon. That’s where I add variety to the line-up and make decent-sized quantities to allow for left-overs. (I don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking every day!) Each 2-week period generally contains a big vegetable stew (or curry) with rice, a tortilla dish (e.g., enchiladas, tacos, or casserole), a chili or bean stew, a grain-based dish (e.g., risotto, polenta), and stir-fried greens with either marinated tofu or tempeh. Having spent nearly 5 years cooking my way through 10 cookbooks, I have a lot of great recipes from which to choose.

THIRD: I created a standardized shopping list for the stuff we eat all the time and then customize it for the variable luncheon fare. It’s set up according to the layout of the store so that I can make efficient use of my time while there. When I get home, we spend a chunk of time washing and prepping the fresh produce for storage in airtight containers. That helps keep things fresh for as long as possible. I also cook with the least hardy materials in the first few days after the big shopping trip so they won’t go soft or bad on me. Grocery day has become a time-consuming affair, but we’re set-up nicely for the ensuring two weeks thereafter.

FOURTH: I’ve stocked up on nonperishable basics – e.g., protein powder, beans, grains, oil, vinegar, cereal, crackers, canned goods (which we use sparingly), condiments, dried fruit, nuts, spices, coffee, tea, V-8 juice (my husband’s favorite), and dog food. I’ve also loaded up the freezer with leftover stews, vegetables, and fruits. I’m prepared in the event we see some shortages and/or our household has to batten down the hatches due to illness. We’ll eat it all eventually, but it provides a measure of comfort to have a slightly elevated food inventory.

FIFTH: I keep track of “Best By” dates for our food inventory and make sure we use the stuff closest to expiration first. For the most part, we’ve got plenty of time to deal with it all. However, I’m sensitized to the issue having cleaned out my parents’ stores and tossed a lot of canned goods that were years past their useful lives.

We’ve been a predominantly home-cooked-meals household for several years now. As such, our adjustment to the quarantine food-wise has been quite easy. I will confess, however, that I miss the occasional nights out to local restaurants and look forward to the time when we can frequent them again.

Am I Watching Too Much TV?

watching tv

It has been nearly 11 weeks since our household went into quarantine. We’ve gone out to grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, attend to the dog’s health, and go to the post office. Otherwise, we’ve had to content ourselves with activities and entertainment available in our Home Sweet Home.

For the majority of our confinement, I’ve been on a tear to complete household projects that had been lingering on the “to do” list forever. I had quite a lot of them, so it has kept me quite busy. But as I neared the end of that first wave of activity, I started watching more TV. A lot more. So, I decided to explore the subject to see if that was a healthy response to our circumstances.

According to a 2019 Nielsen study, Americans spend a great deal of time in front of screens. (See Note 1.) On average, we watch a smidge over four hours of television per day. We log another six hours on the Internet via our computers, notebooks, SmartPhones, and tablets. Add in another hour-and-three-quarters on the radio and forty-five minutes on game consoles and you’ve got quite a lot of media stimulation! But here’s the kicker: During a national crisis, we tend to up our media consumption by 40-60%. And we’re that much more attuned to social media to bridge the gap in missed face time.

Is all this screen time good for us?

Brain imagining scans show that excess screen time results in a deterioration in structural integrity. (See Note 2.) Gray matter atrophies in areas that govern executive functioning (planning, prioritizing, organizing, regulating impulses), reward pathways, and empathy. Compromised white matter affects internal connections between the right and left lobes as well as the higher (cognitive) and lower (emotional/survival) brain centers. As a result, we’re less adept at critical thinking, less sensitive to others, and more prone to addictive behavior.

Screen time has been associated with increased heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes as a function of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess midsection body fat, and high cholesterol/triglycerides. (See Note 3.) Such risks proved to be dose-dependent and were not moderated substantially by outside physical activity. Moreover, watching TV two or more hours per day and snacking while viewing has been associated with increased risk of obesity. (See Note 4.) And, of course, if we’re working full time and watching a lot of TV, we may not make time for exercise.

But doesn’t TV relieve stress and help us chill out? Assuming the content imparts happy or peaceful images, that argument likely holds true for limited engagement. But protracted screen time may be associated with impaired emotional health. Decades of data collected by the General Social Survey demonstrates that happiness has been linked favorably with social activities, religious affiliation, and reading and negatively with television. (See Note 5.) Of course, correlation does not prove causation. But, it certainly warrants moderating one’s screen time to see if less results in a better mood.

So, what should I do?

First and foremost: Exercise! For optimal cardiovascular health, Dr. Dean Ornish recommends stretching at least 20 minutes per day plus 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. That regimen should be supplemented with weight training for healthy bones and firm musculature. Exercise is good for the body and good for the brain.

Second: Meditate. I’ve written several posts on the benefits of meditation. This practice gains increased importance during times of uncertainty and stress. We cannot change the past nor control the future. We can train ourselves to live in the moment with a calm, clear, centered outlook. That perspective will alleviate stress and place us in the best position to make good decisions.

Third: Read. The Pew Research Center found that readers are drawn to books for pleasure, personal enrichment, and the joy of escaping into an alternate reality. (See Note 6.) Researchers at Emory University also found that “reading stories not only strengthen language processing regions but also affect the individual through embodied semantics in sensorimotor regions.” (See Note 7.) In other words, reading gives the brain a nice workout!

Fourth: Just do something. Cook. Garden. Knock off projects on the “to do” list. Learn to play a musical instrument or perfect skills on ones you already know how to play. Learn a foreign language. Make some art. Write a poem. Play cards or board games with family members. Give your screens – and your eyes – some rest!



Whole Food Plant Based Diet Boosts Immune Function

covid-19This week’s reporting on COVID-19 tells us that over 1.5 million US residents have tested positive for the disease and over 90,000 have been confirmed to have died from it. Such figures fail to count those who have not presented symptoms sufficient to warrant testing nor those whose deaths fell outside the net of COVID-19 tracking. The elderly and those who are immunocompromised represent a disproportionate percent of deaths. And there is no end in sight.

As a member of a household with above-average risk of severe infection, I’m paying close attention to actions we can take to help our bodies prepare for the “fight of their lives” should it come to it. A prime focus centers on our diet. Here’s why…

Scientists tell us that the COVID-19 virus enters the body principally through the nose and mouth; it uses lung tissue as its initial breeding ground. So, the first line of defense against the invader must be the mucosal membranes of the oral cavity and respiratory tracts. These membranes fight infection by secreting Type A antibodies (called secretary immunoglobulin A or SIgA). According to a study published by the University of Western Sydney, we can boost our SIgA response by consuming mushrooms. Healthy volunteers who added one cup of mushrooms to their daily diet showed 50% more Type A antibody secretion than the control group. [See Note 1.]

Should a virus break through mucosal membrane fortification, the body’s innate and adaptive immune responses go into action. Our innate immune response avails itself of natural killer cells that target pathogens, including viruses responsible for common respiratory infections. The adaptive immune response designs and produces antibodies that are custom-tailored to combat specific invaders. For proper functioning, the adaptive response must be sufficiently nimble to ramp up production during the window of opportunity in which the infection can be contained without going on overdrive and recklessly attacking its own vital tissues.

I used to think that the immune system was something that was genetically pre-determined. You either had a good one, or you didn’t. But it turns out that its functioning has a great deal to do with the quality of the microbiome in our intestinal tract. As discussed in a prior post, the microbiome plays an active role in digestion, vitamin and amino acid production, and metabolic regulation. With advancing technology, scientists can now trace the extent to which the microbiota and immune system work symbiotically to provide for the body’s response to microbial threat and maintenance of overall health. [See Note 2.] In short, a well-functioning microbiome provides the means for favorable gene expression and serves a crucial role in immune homeostasis. To that end, we must pay close attention to what we eat.

vegan dietHere are a handful of evidence-based recommendations:

Eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. While immune function tends to decline in older adults, one study considered the possibility that older adults are simply getting too few servings of fruits and vegetables daily. It traced the efficacy of vaccine-induced antibody response in two groups of older adults: one ate 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, and the other only 2. The former demonstrated a 2.5x boost in immune response versus the latter. [See Note 3.] Word to the wise: Eat a colorful assortment of produce to maximize phytonutrient diversity and make your meals interesting.

Make sure your diet includes plenty of fiber. Undigested complex carbohydrates elevate production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that serve as energy sources for the gut microbiota and intestinal epithelial cells. Epithelial cells serve as gatekeepers that permit absorption of healthy substances into the body and block entrance to harmful ones. To that end, load up on whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.

Add immune-boosting superstars to your diet, notably mushrooms, bitter greens, garlic, green tea, and kiwifruit.

Add a tablespoon of ground flax seeds to your daily regimen. They’re loaded with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D and E, all of which are crucial for immune health.

Avoid highly processed and fried foods as they increase inflammation, deplete nutrients, and dampen immune response.

Finally, a study published through the CUNY School of Public Health explored the health advantages of a strict vegan diet over vegetarian or healthy omnivore alternatives. [See Note 4.] It found that the vegan microbiota showed reduced levels of resident microbes with pathogenic potential and a greater abundance of protective species. The vegan microbiota was also associated with reduced inflammation and lowered the risk of arteriosclerosis.



What Science Has Told Me About COVID-19

As an alumnus of UC San Diego, I’ve had the privilege of attending two webinars recently on the coronavirus pandemic courtesy of Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, a professor and researcher at the UCSD Medical School. I’ve also checked out a couple of articles that inform my current perspective. Here’s what I discovered.

The Chinese Health Ministry has shared data regarding infection rates and disease severity. Risk factors for morbidity include older age, hypertension, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and obesity. Researchers are evaluating the degree to which drugs used to treat these conditions might have an impact on the presentation of the disease.

covid-19 age distribution and morbidity rates

While this chart is instructive, the US experience may deviate given differences in general health and lifestyles between the populations. Morbidity may also be affected by access to healthcare facilities for the gravely ill.

The disease takes root initially in the lungs. It takes awhile before viral agents manifest in the nasal and pharyngeal cavities, the sites where current tests check for infection. As such, a person could test negative for COVID-19 simply because the virus has not yet migrated to the upper respiratory tract.

Viral shedding begins 2 or more days before symptoms appear and persists throughout the course of the disease (see below). Widespread testing in Iceland revealed that half of the persons infected with COVID-19 did not manifest symptoms whatsoever. Bottom line: You, your friends, family members, co-workers, et al may feel fine yet you could still be carriers of the disease and infect others. Keep your distance and wear personal protective equipment!

covid-19 in throat and sputum

This unfortunate reality plagued a 120-voice community choir at its final rehearsal on March 10, 2020. Sixty choristers showed up for practice, none of whom had the slightest indication of illness. Chairs were set apart widely to give each singer ample breathing room. No one touched or hugged other members. Yet 45 attendees took ill, 27 tested positive for COVID-19, and two died from complications related to the disease.

You don’t have to be in close contact with an infected party to contract the virus. The virus can survive in aerosol form (i.e., suspended in the air) for upwards of 2 hours. It can also remain viable on inanimate objects for hours to days after deposit from a human host. If someone else touches the infected surface and then touches his or her face, the virus can establish itself in the new host. Word to the Wise: Wash your hands vigorously immediately after contact with a suspect object. Disinfect surfaces. Don’t touch your face!

Most states have placed restrictions on its citizens’ movements, closed non-essential business establishments, and denied gatherings in excess of 10 people. They’ve asked folks to “shelter in place” to the maximum extent possible. They want to tamp down the spread of the disease and make sure that our health care systems can accommodate persons with severe viral symptoms. Here’s why:

covid-19 hospital readiness

I don’t know if we’ll be able to hold infection rates to 20% over an 18-month period, but our household will do its part to make that objective a reality.

Meanwhile, there are multiple immunology groups around the country working on vaccines as well as treatment options for those who become infected. UCSD is active in this pursuit. Moreover, the UCSD School of Engineering is exploring options for 3-D printing of face masks and the use of UV light to sterilize used masks. They are also looking at ways to speed the production of ventilators.

A return to normalcy rests in the hands of able scientists and researchers. As Dr. Schooley said: “The virus will continue to circulate unless we get a vaccine to get it under control.

De-Stress With Mindfulness

My last post focused on the pandemic and the actions that my household is taking in response to it. This week, things have gotten more serious. Monday, our governor issued an executive order that calls for home isolation except to secure food and prescription medicine. Workers associated with essential services may go to work; all others must telecommute. It’s a troubling time.

In the midst of all this turmoil, I attended a virtual class on stress management and the immune response courtesy of my local Yoga/Tai Chi studio. Master Brian started the session by reminding us that we cannot control external circumstances. In fact, it creates stress and strain if we try to control them. We’ll get tossed about in waves of thoughts and emotions tied to outside events and information. We’ll lose our ability to stay grounded, to see things clearly, and to take right action. And we’ll weaken our ability to combat infection disease should we be exposed to it.

say no to stressThese observations resonate clearly with a post I wrote two-plus years ago entitled Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. It provided high level findings from Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s book by the same name. In it, he notes that chronic stress gives rise to hypertension, excess fatty acids/glucose/cholesterol, digestive disruption, bone disintegration, immune system suppression, memory decline, and sleep deprivation. In short, it damages vital systems, weakens the body’s defense mechanisms, and elevates the risk of illness and death.

While I’m seeing products that purport to bolster immune response fly off the shelves, I’m not hearing many folks talk about stress management and its role in bolstering immunity. Yet I suspect that managing stress is a far more effective strategy for immune system support than loading up on supplements.

Our exposure to news outlets and social media isn’t helping. It’s all gloom and doom. I get it; the pandemic is frightening. Its global impact has been devastating, and there’s no end in sight. We may need to hear how bad things are to get with the program on making sacrifices to keep ourselves and others safe. And yet a steady diet of that kind of reporting is not good for stress management. If you’ve already got the message, it’s probably best to be a little less informed.

be mindfulWe need to create space between all that external stuff and our conscious awareness. When the gap is small, things that happen outside can hit us and knock us off our feet. They can take over our consciousness and stress us out. When the gap is large, we can simply watch what’s happening and remain unaffected. We can live in a state of total presence. We can let go of expectations tied to the external world and focus on the power and centeredness of our interior life.

Admittedly, I’m not stellar when it comes to practicing presence. I get distracted easily, and unfavorable news can cause me to ruminate and worry. So, I’m making a point of developing habits and practices that run counter to my ingrained tendencies. I’m journaling in the morning to get the noise out of my head, onto paper, and then into the “circular file.” I’m tuning in to my daily Yoga-Tai-Chi (on-line!) class to encourage the practice of presence. And I’m establishing routines that create a sense of normalcy despite living in decidedly abnormal times. It all helps.

I’ve read and written about meditation but haven’t started a practice of it. It’s an auspicious time for me to work on quieting my body and mind. One step at a time. One day at a time.

A Pandemic Hits Home

This past week sent shock waves through our nation once again. I’ve experienced them before. I witnessed the oil crisis of the 1970s with long lines at every gas station. I lived in the SF Bay Area during the Loma Prieta earthquake and its aftermath. We’d moved to Raleigh NC in time to catch Hurricane Fran and the devastation it wreaked on our town. And I joined the nation in mourning the loss of life and sense of security with the terrorist attacks of 2001. I know the anxious feeling that uncertainty brings, and I tell myself that we shall get through it. But I surely do not like it.

covid-19The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic one week ago. Federal, state, and local governments have been taking action to restrict travel and establish a measure of social distancing in an attempt to contain the outbreak. As a country, we are scrambling to establish appropriate testing protocols and capacity to identify and (I hope) quarantine affected parties. We have a pressing need to flatten the growth rate of infection so as not to overwhelm our healthcare system. And yet some folks do not take the disease seriously based on the relatively small number of confirmed cases reported to date.

Here’s why I take it seriously:

  • Confirmed cases are likely grossly underreported given the relatively small number of tests performed to date.
  • Many people present mild symptoms and, therefore, do not realize that they are carriers of the disease.
  • The virus appears to have staying power on surfaces that have come into contact with an infected person, thereby increasing its transmission rate.
  • Death rates are disproportionately high, especially for older persons. (My husband and I are older adults!) Those with severe symptoms often require hospitalization to avoid becoming a statistic. They may require a lengthy convalescence and may not recover fully.
  • The growth rate of cases has been exponential; demand for hospital intervention can rapidly outpace capacity.

I had an especially nasty bout with the flu 5 years ago. While it did not rise to the level of hospitalization, I have a keen sense for how “severe symptoms” present and the reality of never quite getting back to “normal” again. I have no desire to experience that again!

We’ve opted to practice social distancing and home isolation. We’ll venture forth to address necessities, e.g., to secure food and prescription medicine. We’ll maintain a discrete distance from others when out and wash our hands thoroughly upon our return. In short, we’ll err on the side of caution to protect ourselves and others.

Meanwhile, we’ll take the opportunity to attend to some long-standing projects that have been on the “to do” list but just never gurgled up to high priority. For example:

  • We’ve reached out to our attorney to update our estate plans. We have been meaning to do it for ages. While I don’t anticipate them having to go into effect, we’ll feel comforted in knowing that we’ve done a yeoman’s job preparing for worst-case scenarios.
  • We’ve updated our emergency suppliers to hold us over if we need to shelter in place for 2-4 weeks.
  • We finished planting all the trees and shrubs for our updated front and back yards. We’ll pay closer attention to them going forward. It’s great exercise!
  • I’ll be catching up on sewing projects that have been nagging at me for weeks (if not months!)
  • We’ll finally get around to going through our closets and garage to identify things that we no longer use or need. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to dispose of them, but at least the hard work of going through everything will be behind us!
  • We’ll both catch up on “office work” that proves time-consuming, mildly tedious, and worth doing.
  • We’ll exercise consistently, eat well, and get plenty of rest.
  • We’ll make the most out of the quality time that we get to spend together.
  • We’ll practice gratitude for all the things that we have and be mindful of others whose predicaments are more precarious than ours.

I’m still unsettled by the uncertainty that surrounds me. But I will do my best to keep this household healthy and upbeat. Fortunately, having a blissfully ignorant, unerringly jubilant Scottish terrier helps!