As 2020 draws to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to roll on and gain momentum. In early November, the number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in the United States exceeded 100,000 per day. There’s no question that the pandemic will affect day-to-day life for several more months. This truly is a marathon, rather than a sprint.
People are suffering from pandemic fatigue and with both winter and the holidays approaching, public health officials are concerned that individuals may lower their guard and engage in risky behaviors.
Eleven vaccines are currently in late-stage clinical trials. While early data from Pfizer suggests that its two-dose COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective, clinical trials aren’t yet complete. It will still be some time before vaccines for the novel coronavirus are widely available.
During these challenging times, health plans can help consumers cope with the current reality by launching proactive education campaigns. Here are three examples of messages that may resonate with members:
- Non-pharmaceutical interventions can make a meaningful difference. At the HMS Momentum 2020 conference in September, Dr. Sanjay Gupta noted that the three most important factors related to the pandemic are non-pharmaceutical interventions, a safe vaccine and therapeutics. Until COVID-19 vaccines are viable, people must rely on non-pharmaceutical interventions like masks, hand washing and social distancing.
Although social distancing is always recommended, as outdoor temperatures drop people may find themselves in close quarters where staying six feet away from others becomes more challenging. Masks provide “source control,” preventing respiratory droplets from spreading when people cough, talk, or sneeze. In the coming weeks, masks will become an even more important tool to protect against COVID-19.
Hand washing is another non-pharmaceutical best practice for combatting the novel coronavirus. The CDC offers several tips for improving the efficacy of hand washing. It’s important to wash for at least 20 seconds with soap – this period of time is about how long it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. It’s also critical to lather hands thoroughly, including the backs of the hands, between fingers and underneath fingernails. In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is the next best alternative.
- Flu vaccines are more important this year than ever. It’s possible for people to contract both the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously. Getting a flu vaccine is a proven way to “kill two birds with one stone” – flu immunizations reduce the risk of contracting the flu and this year, they will help conserve potentially scarce health resources for individuals with severe cases of COVID-19.
Health plans must reinforce that seasonal flu vaccines are safe and effective. While these immunizations won’t protect against COVID-19, they offer several other important benefits like reducing the risk of illness, hospitalization and death from the flu virus. Getting a flu vaccine is also a way for people to demonstrate civic responsibility. The elderly and people with underlying health conditions are more susceptible to contracting both the flu and COVID-19. When people across all age groups get a flu shot, it protects individuals in vulnerable populations.
- Management of chronic health conditions shouldn’t be overlooked. Even though COVID-19 cases still exist in the community and may be rising, people with chronic conditions like diabetes or heart conditions must continue to monitor and manage their health. Telehealth is an effective way for healthcare organizations to expand access to providers.
Medical practices have also adopted a variety of practices to reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure during in-person appointments. Individuals with chronic health conditions shouldn’t simply abandon visits due to fear of COVID-19. They should engage providers in a conversation about the risks of contracting COVID-19 during face-to-face visits or lab work versus the risks of leaving medical conditions untreated.
Conducting consumer education campaigns during this challenging time doesn’t have to be difficult. Health plans can communicate with members and start a dialogue about healthy living during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the upcoming weeks and months will surely be difficult, consumers of all ages can take steps to maintain their own well-being and to protect family members and the community at large.