Make the consumer choice…these words are ringing in my ears after hearing them in a governor’s press conference this week. They were uttered in response to a question regarding whether reducing restrictions on businesses is a good idea given a huge spike of COVID-19 cases in that state. “If you are scared…make the consumer choice to stay home.”
The consumer choice? Not all consumers have the same opportunity or options. This is true whether there’s a pandemic or not. There are things we can control and things we cannot. And sometimes the implementation of policy is beyond our individual control. Sometimes the implementation of policy leads to tragedy. Often the implementation of policy or lack of policy leads to less than ideal outcomes if we’re paying attention to details!
What consumer choice does an essential worker have other than to wear a mask and gloves? What consumer choice does the hairdresser mother of a disabled, medically fragile child have when her employer reopens a salon and her state disqualifies her for unemployment if she doesn’t return to work?* What consumer choice do I have when a police officer without a mask stops me for a broken tail light and asks me to exit the car? My mask will protect him, but his lack of a requirement to wear one puts me at a risk that I would not choose as a consumer.
I am all for individual responsibility. And good health is facilitated by individual choices. But it is unrealistic to develop policies that fail to recognize that some populations do not have the same access, means, and knowledge to make healthy choices. Filling these gaps is where our institutions have the opportunity to shine. As a whole, they are failing.
We are left having to determine the best path to health on our own personally and as a community through and around many obstacles. For some of us, the obstacles are an inconvenience. For others, they may be deadly. Right now, so many of us are trying to figure out how to survive, thriving may feel like a pipe dream. More on that in other posts.
For the moment, let’s focus on healthy choices. The top 5 stay the same:
- Drink plenty of water. If the water provided by your city or well is safe, tap water is fine. No need to spend extra on bottled water.
- Eat regularly timed meals filled with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, nuts, seeds, whole grain carbohydrates, and healthy fat. Fruit, nuts, and seeds make great snacks.
- Get plenty of sleep. Allowing some screen-free quiet time before bed can help you relax.
- Move your body. Include a minimum of 150 minutes of vigorous activity each week. If you lift heavy boxes all day in your job, it counts. If you use the stairs to your 10th floor office, it counts.
- Avoid foods, medicines, and products to which you have an allergy, intolerance, or adverse reaction. Avoiding known irritants reduces general stress on your system.
Even these basic choices may be harder right now. Food shortages can derail a menu plan. Your daily task list may now include childcare in addition to work. That leads me to another healthy choice: Be kind to yourself. It is less important to perfectly execute a plan than to do your best and let go of the rest!
In fact, it may be better to let the chores pile up for a day while you do something to reduce stress: read a book, binge watch, craft, paint, build something, plant some flowers, play video games, bike, bake, do yoga, or just pet the dog. It’s useless to pretend that this is a normal year. It’s not. What worked for you before may not now. It’s a great time to explore changing feelings and perceptions and be open to new inspiration.
Other health choices may be more complicated:
- Should I take medication for IBS or should I try to manage it with diet?
- Should I take my post-op opioid prescription or should I give lesser pain relievers a try first?
- Should I have surgery on my knee or try rehabbing it with PT when studies say the overall outcome of surgery is no greater than PT but my doctor recommends surgery?
- Should I get a second opinion if I trust my doctor?
- What kind of therapy should I choose for PTSD?
- Should I have chemo or not?
Any consumer choice should take into consideration your priorities, intentions, values, goals, flexibility, and resolve. It should be informed by facts. And it should take into account barriers beyond your control. Which brings us to today’s million dollar question, what should I do to avoid COVID-19?
When it comes to reducing the risk of contracting COVID-19, in general, less contact with people equals less risk. While maximum isolation is possible for some, it is not a realistic choice for others. In order to make responsible decisions, each of us must understand the risks of our potential behavior to ourselves, our families, and our communities.
Unfortunately, getting enough solid facts about SARS-CoV-2 on which to base a risk assessment is difficult. I believe it’s worth the effort, but it requires diligence and determination to ascertain the pertinent facts. With a novel virus, a swiftly changing knowledge base is to be expected. We’re learning as we go. But dissemination of reliable facts during this pandemic has been stymied by state health departments sending out contradictory, confusing messages, a questionable performance by the CDC, and misstatements from the WHO.
If you’re looking for a single source of guidance, I’d recommend this article published in The New Yorker –“Amid the Coronavirus Crisis, a Regimen for Reëntry” by Atul Gawande. The regimen is based on what healthcare workers at Mass General Brigham have learned about transmission through trial and error.
You may not have the consumer choice to stay home, but doing what you can to minimize risk doesn’t mean you’re scared or weak. It can mean you value staying healthy and keeping others healthy. It can mean that you’re strong enough to stay positive without social interaction. It can mean that you’re willing to do whatever you must do to protect the vulnerable. It can mean you respect healthcare workers.
Minimizing risk is a healthy consumer choice!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
*This is the policy in Arkansas.