Anxious about COVID-19 spread? There are healthy coping strategies for that

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Joanna Di Maio of Yorkville said on Monday she has been actively following what's been going on with the coronavirus named COVID-19. Not only is she curious about what's going on state-side, she said, but she has been interested particularly because she has relatives who are living in Italy, where some residents are only allowed to leave their houses to go to the grocery store or to work.

Di Maio said her cousin's girlfriend, who is a nurse in Italy, has been working around the clock at Italian hospitals, where there just aren't enough beds for the continuous stream of patients coming in, and schools have shut down across the country due to the spread of the coronavirus. She said her relatives' personal lives also are changing as a result of following mandated preventative measures.

"I mean, nobody has gotten sick, but my eldery uncle ... they are telling the elderly people to stay inside, so my uncle is pretty much home-bound," Di Maio said.

Tuesday, the first confirmed cases of community spread of coronavirus came to Illinois, with a male teenager from McHenry County and a woman in her 60s from Kane County the latest announced COVID-19 confirmed cases in the state.

Di Maio said COVID-19 hasn't directly affected her yet, but she has become more aware of what's going on with the coronavirus. She has been taking precautions like washing her hands with soap and water, along with making sure not to touch her face with unwashed hands.

Di Maio said she's been generally more relaxed about touching surfaces in her own home. Whenever she's out and about, she said, she is taking extra precautions like wiping down her phone if it touches a more common surface outside of her home.

"So it's just becoming more aware of what you're touching," Di Maio said.

Dr. Iram Qazi, a psychiatrist out of Northwestern Medicine Ben Gordon Center in DeKalb, said she has been seeing a lot of people becoming anxious about the spread of COVID-19 – and not just from people who are already prone to those types of reactions.

"Even people who generally don’t have a lot of anxiety are having difficulties,” Qazi said.

Qazi said that's understandable, given that people tend to have growing anxiety if there is no sense of control over a situation. Even with very specific populations being at risk for the disease, she said, sometimes panic can increase with more information being available about the spread of the coronavirus.

“I think what people need is to have the correct information and enough information and from the right sources,” like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Qazi said.

Qazi said she has been telling her patients to focus on what they can control – like washing their hands, avoiding huge crowds and keeping their distance from people who are sick – but to stay logical. She said it can help for people to put together a plan of action in case it does directly affect them, like if they could work from home or next steps if schools close.

Steve Curatti, program administrator for Kendall County Health Department, said there are still no reported cases of COVID-19 in Kendall County as of Tuesday afternoon, despite the confirmation of the new case in nearby Kane County. He said all state labs are now up and running for testing for the coronavirus and local health departments, including Kendall County's, are in lockstep with state health officials in terms of planning for the coronavirus potentially spreading within those communities.

Curatti said it's recommended for people to only wear masks if they themselves are sick to help limit spread of the coronavirus by better containing coughs and sneezes. He said hand sanitizer can help in a pinch, but it's really best to thoroughly wash hands with soap and water while singing "Happy Birthday" to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Curatti also said it doesn't hurt to wipe down non-porus common surfaces like doorknobs with disinfectants that are registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He said local health officials are advising people to not alter their daily routines right now but to continue practicing healthy behaviors, like staying home when you're sick and washing your hands.

"We have to be mindful of that," Curatti said. "That's really what is going to put us in a good place."

Qazi said it might also help people to take a more self-aware approach to their anxiety and to talk their concerns through with a trustworthy source like a nurse or a therapist. However, she said, what she stresses to her patients all the time are breathing exercises as good coping strategies.

"Even if you’re not diagnosed with anxiety … it’s great to do some breathing exercises, some mindfulness exercises, some yoga," Qazi said. "Taking 10 minutes for yourself really helps."

Di Maio said that, from what she's reading, the effects of the coronavirus don't appear to be all that bad for those who have healthy immune systems and it appears to affect the elderly and those with compromised immune systems more than healthy and younger individuals. Ultimately, she said, she's not overly concerned about COVID-19 and is continuing to live her life – and she is still planning on taking a domestic flight with her boyfriend in a couple of weeks.

However, Di Maio said, she's exercising caution about wiping down seats and washing hands in between.

"In my own little world, I'm not as nervous, but I think when I'm going to go out to a place where there's more people, like a concert or such, I think that's when I would be more nervous," Di Maio said. "So that has changed my life in that respect."

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