COVID-19, the 2020 Grinch

As of yesterday, Multnomah County has entered into a Two-Week Pause. This last week has been startling, watching daily case counts jump to nearly a thousand new cases a day. It’s a stark reminder on how dangerous and deadly our gatherings with each other can be. Our neighbors, Washington, Idaho, and California are all faring worse and across our nation healthcare resources are straining. Heading into this holiday season, it is normal to feel grief, anger, denial, and depression. This holiday season, in my little family we will be setting an extra place setting at the table as a reminder of all those whose families have lost someone–why this year we are gathering with our larger family over Zoom and to provide a external expression of our grief.

What does the Two-Week Pause actually mean? More people are being encouraged to find ways to work from home. Indoor visits to long-term care facilities are suspended. Restaurant and sites of indoor activities are capped at 50 people capacities and group gatherings, including restaurant parties, are capped at 6 with a strong emphasis on outdoor dining and take-out. Folks should not at this time extend their social gathering circle to new folks.

****EDIT: The Two-Week Pause is now a Two Week Freeze starting November 18th, 4 weeks for Multnomah County. The daily new case numbers are just too high. ICUs across the state are running at 90% or higher capacity. Here in the Portland Metro area, only 15 ICU beds are available and there are a thousand new cases every day. Here at EPPC, our testing capacity is running thin and we are getting dozens of calls a day from parents struggling to access the testing they need. What does the freeze mean? Gyms, fitness centers, all recreation facilities, and venues are closed. Restaurants and bars are take-out only. Long term care facilities permit only outdoor visitation. Stores of all kinds are limited to 75% of maximum capacity and curbside pickup is strongly encouraged. Offices are to close to the public and work-from-home is mandated whenever possible. Gatherings may not be larger than 6 persons or include persons from more than 2 households. Faith based gatherings may not be larger than 25 people indoors, 50 people outdoors.

What does the Two-Week Pause not mean? When we come out of pause on Thanksgiving, (or Christmas) we should not immediately gather in larger groups. We are seeing the impacts of lapsing social distancing. Calls from parents receiving notifications about COVID positive folks are increasing. We are all walking a fine line right now with trying to support our children’s mental well-being and their need for connection with the very real threat of getting sick with COVID and being harmed or spreading it to someone who will be harmed. In our home, my preschooler is hurting from the strain of lost connection; they frequently do not want to engage in video calls with friends and family because it hurts to not be there in person. They get angry and frustrated, shutting down and lashing out with their feet and hands. As a parent, it hurts to see my child suffering. It’s normal for them to be grieving like this (maybe you are too?) and it’s normal to want to throw caution to the wind to give them the very important gift of connection. However that will not help our community recover nor does it help our children develop coping skills for what is turning out to be a long road ahead.

The Child Mind Institute has long been an excellent resource for helping children with mental health concerns. They have written an article to help you navigate this tumultuous holiday season, strongly recommending that holiday planning and conversations start now. They also have a slew of COVID-19 resources including this one on helping children cope with disappointment.

I personally have found that creating family tasks (such as contributing to our neighborhood food pantry) and an external focal point (like the extra place setting at the table) has significantly helped my family touch base with our grief regularly, reminding us why we are making the sacrifices we are, and lowering the amount of internalized stress we are all carrying. Self-care and family-care can be physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social, and professional. Professional self-care may seem odd in the context of children, but my preschooler reminds me constantly that they are striving to understand and develop a strong internal barometer for work ethic and motivation. They are empowered when they engage in an activity that promotes their independence and the health of their community. What has helped in your family? Are you building new gratitude rituals such as “Covering Your BACES” or creating new family habits like taking an evening walk?

If you are feeling like your or your family’s self-care game is flagging, try taking this Self-Care Inventory created by the National Institute of Mental Illness to see what self-care area might give you the most bang for your buck. For teens and pre-teens, here is a great self-serve mental health resource to help them take on their mental health needs.

For updates from the governor’s office, check here.

For COVID-19 Updates from the Oregon Health Authority, check here.