How to Plan for Re-Entry in a New COVID-19 World

Five questions to ask for your re-entry plan.

Posted May 22, 2020

Dr. Wayne Jonas
Source: Dr. Wayne Jonas

As businesses begin to reopen and government officials lessen restrictions, you will have to make many choices every day about how to resume work and social relationships in the "new normal." Discussions about re-opening are creating a whole new set of rules and new reasons for anxiety. This is not easy or "life as normal." So, how can you help make this simpler and safe?

Here are five questions to ask yourself as you make your re-entry plan:

  • How am I protected from the virus and also from the dangers of unproven, disproven, or toxic products, practices, or risky situations?
  • Which practices will I permit because they might work and don’t have harmful side effects, even if some are not proven?
  • Which practices will I promote and focus on, including established and proven conventional, complementary, and self-care practices?
  • Who in my health care team will I partner with to find out which practices work and which don’t?
  • How will I address issues of payment and cost for preventive or health-promoting choices?

Thinking about the above questions will prepare you for finding answers to a range of questions that you will soon face such as:

  • Do I feel comfortable eating out at restaurants?
  • How soon will I get on a plane?
  • Will I wear a mask or gloves? When?
  • Who will I hug, shake hands with, or elbow bump?
  • How will I feel safe again at work?
  • Can I go over and have dinner with my mother?

Let’s explore each of these a bit more.

Protect

How am I protected from the virus and from the dangers of unproven, disproven, or toxic products, practices, or risky situations?

Even as we reopen, we are being told to expect waves of infections caused by COVID-19. You want to protect yourself both from the virus itself and potentially harmful “preventative” methods that are not supported by research evidence.

Follow updated guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on hand-washing, wearing masks when in public, and staying six feet away from other people whenever possible. Read the FDA's list of warning letters describing unproven, disproven, and potentially toxic products that are increasingly being marketed as preventative measures or cures for COVID-19. If you take anything to “boost” your immunity, make sure it is safe.

Protecting your mental health is also important. Take a break from alarming news reports and social media if they aren’t helping you or make you feel depressed, anxious, or angry. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression that are interfering with your day-to-day life, your work, or a relationship, reach out to your primary care doctor or a mental health professional for advice on treatments that can help alleviate your symptoms.

Promote

Which practices or behaviors will I promote and focus on, including proven conventional, complementary, and self-care practices?

Perhaps you began a new self-care approach during social isolation or learned something new about yourself. As your routine changes, you may find yourself slipping into old or unhealthy habits. Many people started practicing yoga with their children, engaging in breathing exercises for anxiety, taking family walks, cooking more, and video chatting with distant friends. How will you continue those practices as you move forward?

If you stopped a healing practice like acupuncture, massage, or chiropractic care due to COVID, it may be time to resume your practice in a way that feels safe to you. Ask your health care provider about any safety precautions and talk about your concerns.

How will you reconnect with loved ones in ways that feel both physically and emotionally safe? Psychological trauma associated with prolonged isolation from friends and family is very real. It may feel weird or awkward when you spend time with friends and family again. Knowing that in advance can help you work through these difficult emotions.

Permit

Which practices will I permit that might work and seem to have no harmful side effects?

You may be thinking about taking supplements that have been shown to be effective against other viruses but not COVID-19. Find out whether they work by asking your doctor and read my guide on supplements in order to assure no harm.

Your mindset has a major effect on how stresses impact you. When you see a situation as draining, it is more likely that it will hurt you. If you see a situation as a positive opportunity for growth, it is more likely you will benefit.

When thinking about lifestyle practices, this may include continuing to use grocery pickup or getting take-out or dining in more often. Items that you permit may make your life a bit easier in some way or decrease some of the stress associated with it.

Partner

Who in my health care team will I partner with to learn about and discuss evidence for promising treatments?

Connect with experts who you can trust. If you had any changes in a pre-existing chronic condition during social isolation, begin with your primary care practitioner, a doctor, nurse practitioner, or qualified integrative health provider.

You may have new needs coming out of this very challenging experience that you didn’t have when it started. It can be helpful to meet with a professional counselor to learn coping strategies for stress, anxiety, depression, or grief and loss that you’ve experienced.

Perhaps it would be helpful to speak with a financial counselor for advice that will help lessen financial stress. Talking with a trusted friend or family member can also help as you work through the stresses that come with a time of rapid change and uncertainty.

Payment

How will I manage issues of payment and cost for preventive or health-promoting choices?

As millions of Americans have lost income or their jobs, and health insurance, it can be very challenging to afford healthy foods and health care. If you used to pay for a yoga studio, can you switch to a more affordable online option? If you plan to keep cooking at home more often and the grocery bills go up, can you find creative ways to decrease your expenses?

Talk to your doctor about options for lower-cost medications and see if they have a community resource or navigator who can help you find affordable solutions.

Stay Well, Stay Safe

You may find that re-entry into society comes with new stresses and worries that are different from those you experienced when social isolation began. Use the questions above to devise a plan that helps you feel safe and keeps you healthy as the world reopens. And remember, the resilience you built during the last few months will help you as you move forward.

Common Sense, Uncommon Results

These recommendations may seem very basic and sound like common sense, but they are powerful—especially when implemented comprehensively.

Finally, keep in mind, this situation is not just about the virus. While some people get extremely ill or die, most have a mild illness or never exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. Resilience and developing a proactive plan that adequately addresses your medical and mental health needs are the keys to your physical and emotional well-being.

This post was co-authored by James Lake, M.D., Lake is a board-certified psychiatrist who completed residency training in psychiatry at Stanford University Hospital. He has served as a clinical assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Stanford and is currently a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine.