Living with COVID-19 is the new normal

Coronavirus in South Africa

South Africans watched as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic and in early March it hit our shores with the first South African case diagnosed. Some early decisive action from government introducing lockdown and closing borders ensured that we delayed our surge of admission and bought us precious time to prepare the testing and treatment capacity that we would require.

We watched the numbers increase day after day and alarmingly saw South Africa quickly rise to the top five countries with most cases reported. We also watched with concern as the pandemic and the measures to control it impacted on the financial wellbeing of individuals, families and the country. By late July we began to see the turn in cases and we were soon informed that we had passed the peak of cases in South Africa.

Our numbers of new cases continue to decline. Now we watch as other countries who had their first wave in February, March and April, begin to experience their second wave.

Where are we now, 6 months into the pandemic?

Where do we find ourselves today, 6 months since our first lockdown began and as we enter the lowest level of restrictions? Many South Africans have been infected. Some have become seriously ill and have died. Many more have recovered. Worryingly, many South Africans have developed a different condition, “Coronavirus Burnout and Pandemic Fatigue”.

It is understandable as the pandemic wears on, that people are getting tired of taking precautions. It was something completely new to us to stay indoors, avoid public places, distance from the people we cared about, and not attend social and religious gatherings. It was strange to wear masks at all times and to sanitise our hands often during the day. But strange as it was, we did embrace this new reality.

While some people continue to observe these precautions, many others feel they are no longer necessary and some never believed they were necessary in the first place.

Here’s why it is still important to be cautious for the next few months

1.Coronavirus is not going away any time soon

We will still have to deal with Coronavirus until most people have been infected or have received the vaccine, and we reach herd immunity. The vaccine will likely only be available for all South Africans next year (we hope). So until it becomes available and most people receive the vaccine, the virus still has many people it can infect.

We are seeing second waves in European countries three to four months after their first wave. We don’t know if this will happen in South Africa, but it is possible, and even likely. Also, we know that once you get Coronavirus you are not immune from it for life, and you could become re-infected in the future.

2. Coronavirus affects some people much more than other people

We now understand who is at greatest risk for developing severe COVID-19 and dying, people who are older than 60 years, overweight, unfit, have multiple medical conditions and have medical conditions that are not well controlled.

The medical conditions that result in more severe sickness and death are hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes (high blood sugar), chronic kidney, heart and lung disease, cancer, HIV and TB.

Be even more cautious if you are at high risk and prevent yourself from getting Coronavirus

Identify it early if you develop COVID-19

  • Remember the most common symptoms for COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, muscle aches, congestion or runny nose, headaches, sore throat, loss of taste/smell, nausea or vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • If you have any symptoms, you should test and then self-isolate while you wait for your result.

Monitor yourself closely if you develop COVID-19

  • Make sure your underlying medical conditions are well controlled. Take your hypertension, diabetes and other medicines correctly and on time.
  • Monitor your blood pressure and sugar. If you are diabetic it is a very good idea to get a home device to measure your sugar.
  • Consider getting a pulse oximeter. This is an easy-to-use device which measures the oxygen saturation (level) in your blood and helps to identify early on when you are in need of medical attention. Oxygen saturation should always be greater than 92%

Seek medical help early

  • If your symptoms are worsening or have not improved after 7 days
  • If you become confused or have difficulty concentrating
  • If you develop a new fever or your fever returns
  • If you develop chest pain
  • If you are diabetic and your sugar level is very high (>18) or very low (<3.5)
  • If your breathing becomes difficult, and the number of breaths you take in one minute (respiratory rate) is more than 25
  • If your oxygen level on the pulse oximeter is lower than 92%

Remember if you get very sick,

  • Do not go to your GP’s rooms
  • Call the doctor or arrange a virtual medical consultation
  • Or call an ambulance and go to the hospital

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