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If you have a chronic lung disease like COPD, you should always be extra careful about avoiding respiratory illnesses. However, with the COVID-19 crisis and the speed with which it has spread around the world, it has become critical that people with lung disease practice careful social distancing and self-quarantine at home. This can feel daunting and comes with its own set of challenges, but at this point it is essential to COPD patients’ health that they avoid public contact for now.
Read on to learn why social distancing and self-quarantining are so important when living with COPD and coronavirus risks, and learn how to navigate this new reality in a way that allows you to stay mentally and physically healthy, even while homebound.
COPD and coronavirus can combine to create a life-threatening situation. People with COPD are at a higher risk of more severe symptoms or complications if they are infected with COVID-19. COVID-19 can affect your respiratory tract, causing a cough, shortness of breath, and may lead to pneumonia and critical breathing difficulty. These are symptoms COPD patients already struggle with, so people with COPD must be vigilant about protecting themselves. The best way to do that is to practice strict social distancing and, preferably, to self-quarantine whenever possible.
Social distancing and self-quarantine are necessary to minimize your potential exposure to COVID-19. Anytime you spend time in public and interact with other people, there are multiple possible points of exposure. At a busy grocery store, for example, everyone shares shopping carts, touches the counters and items on the shelves, passes close to each other in the aisles and breathes the same air. Under normal circumstances, this is not much of a concern. However, because COVID-19 is so contagious, and because so many people do not realize they have it, this has presented a more significant challenge when it comes to COPD and coronavirus.
While the majority of COVID-19 cases have been transmitted via person-to-person contact, it is also possible to contract this virus after touching an infected surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth, or by breathing in the virus from the air. Researchers found that the COVID-19 virus remained alive and viable on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 2-3 days. Moreover, they found that the virus could remain in the air for up to 3 hours. This means that you could be at risk of COVID-19 exposure hours or even days after an infected person is in the same area, even if you practice excellent, careful hygiene.
This is disconcerting for most people, but particularly for COPD patients when one considers the ramifications of COPD and COVID-19. When you are in a public place, it is very difficult to avoid contact with others, and if someone coughs or sneezes near you without properly covering, you are put at risk. If surfaces are not properly cleaned and disinfected, you are put at risk.
Unfortunately, for people with COPD, any contact with other people is a risk right now. Social distancing and self-quarantining are the best ways to ensure that you do not have contact with other people who may be infected with COVID-19.
Regular social distancing involves keeping at least 6 feet of distance between you and anyone outside your household. This means limiting your trips outside of the house and making sure that no matter where you are, you do not get physically close with anyone that does not live in your home. When a community participates in social distancing, like you are seeing across the country and the globe, daily life changes significantly. Many companies have employees work from home wherever possible, most gatherings and events are canceled, schools are closed and many public places—like libraries, restaurants or museums—are closed. These things are all extremely helpful for minimizing the number of contacts each person has with another person over the course of a day, but for many people, it does not completely eliminate the risk of exposure. Unfortunately, any trip outside the home—whether it is to a pharmacy, a grocery store or a park—comes with some risk of exposure. For people with COPD, this risk is probably too high.
The best way to reduce your risk of exposure as much as possible is to self-quarantine as long as you can. The practice of self-quarantining for COPD and COVID-19 can be challenging, but it is completely achievable and worthwhile. Self-quarantine requires that people with COPD stay home at all times, without any visitors. People within the household should be careful to continue maintaining careful hygiene, washing hands frequently for 20 seconds at a time and being careful not to share things like dishes, utensils or towels. Ideally, everyone else in the household will self-quarantine as well, but if that is not possible, COPD patients should maintain 6 feet of distance from other members of their household as well, and ensure that surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, bathroom fixtures, counters, tabletops, keyboards, remotes and phones are regularly wiped down and disinfected at least once per day. Continue washing hands regularly throughout your quarantine.
With COPD and coronavirus heavy on your mind, you have probably thought about monitoring your COPD symptoms and maintaining treatments, but you may not have considered how to stay physically fit. Even during your self-quarantine, make physical fitness a priority by getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy meals and exercising.
Exercise helps you maintain your overall health and immune system, and it helps keep your spirits up. However, the way in which you exercise might need to change. If you typically walk to get your exercise, this may not be advisable right now. Unless you are able to steer clear of other people, going for a walk could pose a risk to your health. Other folks walking and running outdoors will breathe heavily, which spreads droplets into the air in the same way that coughing does. Since those droplets can remain in the air for up to three hours, finding other ways to get your exercise is smart when it comes to COPD and COVID-19 avoidance.
Try working out at home, in your yard or on your patio or deck. If you have small hand weights (or even two cans of soup), use them to do bicep curls or shoulder raises. Practice marching in place or dancing with someone in your household. Find a gentle Pilates or restorative yoga class online or through cable TV. Even incorporating stretches and breathing exercises can keep your lungs working and help you maintain muscle strength and flexibility.
Your mental health is important, too, and self-quarantine for COPD and coronavirus can have an impact on how you feel. You may experience grief over canceled events or lost social opportunities. You might find yourself feeling lonely or isolated. Allow yourself these feelings, and then find ways to reframe and incorporate new ideas so you can move forward.
If you had exciting plans canceled, find something new to be excited about. Perhaps there is a project at home to accomplish, a new movie you are excited to see or books you want to read. If you miss social interaction, make some phone calls or try video chatting with loved ones or social groups. Many spiritual gatherings, classes and cultural opportunities have been moved online now, so you may have access to more than you think.
Be aware of any overwhelming feelings you might experience. Reach out to friends and loved ones on the phone if you need someone to talk to, or take advantage of telehealth counseling services. You are not alone during this time, and you can get the help and support you need.
Self-quarantining can present some challenges, like getting enough groceries and medications. Once you know you will be self-quarantining, you will need to do a little work, but it is worthwhile to ensure you are not worried about having what you need at home. Plan for at least 30 days worth of supplies (and more if you can). Make a thorough shopping list of everything you will need over the next 30+ days, including personal hygiene products, cleaning and washing products, paper products and food items that will remain fresh or shelf-stable for a good amount of time. Call your doctor, pharmacy and oxygen provider about ensuring you have a 30-90 day supply of the medications and medical supplies you will need during your quarantine so you are ready to stay home and stay healthy. Have groceries, medications and oxygen supplies delivered to you when possible so you do not have to go out in public. Wipe down deliveries before putting them away, and always wash your hands thoroughly after handling anything that came from outside your home. It is also helpful to have a person outside your home that you regularly touch base in case you need something you cannot get yourself. This will also help reduce your anxiety and give you a regular social contact.
Living with COPD and COVID-19 is complicated right now and will require changes. Your daily life will look different. However, with excellent social distancing practice and planning ahead, you can self-quarantine safely at home and significantly minimize your likelihood of being exposed to this strain of coronavirus.
Now that several COVID-19 vaccines are available for administration, do you still need to stay socially distanced? The answer is somewhat complicated.
It is important to note that you are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after you receive your final dose of the vaccine. Some vaccines are available in one shot, while others require two shots. That means, if you receive a vaccine that requires two shots, it could take over a month from your first shot before you are fully vaccinated. It’s imperative to remember that until you are fully vaccinated, you remain as careful as always, maintaining social distance and wearing a cloth face mask whenever you leave your home.
Once you are fully vaccinated, there will be some situations where you can enjoy social time indoors and unmasked, and others where you should proceed with caution. Vaccines offer significant protection against severe disease, hospitalization and death. However, because they don’t offer 100% complete protection, and because you may still be able to transmit COVID-19 to others, it is important to know when to be careful. Here are some basic guidelines for what to do after you are fully vaccinated.
Once you are fully vaccinated, it’s tempting to return to life as it was before COVID-19. However, with so many people unvaccinated, and with new, more contagious variants circulating, it’s just not safe yet. If we continue to be cautious until most people are vaccinated, we will be able to return to the things we miss the most sooner, rather than later. Until then, enjoy the opportunity to see more loved ones after being vaccinated!
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