As Covid-19 hospitalization rates have increased dramatically since the start of the new year, Valley Stream and neighboring communities are reeling from a virus that continues to hold a tight grip on Long Island. Public health officials, who have fought this fight since day one, are urging residents to ride out the surge by following the most reputable, up-to-date health guidelines and recommendations.
The Herald spoke with Dr. Salvatore Pardo, chairman of emergency services, and Dr. Viktoria Toth, director of psychiatry, at Northwell Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Medical Center to give us an on-the-ground perspective of the hospital and answer readers’ questions and concerns about Covid-19. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Herald: How should a person know when it’s time to go to the hospital?
Pardo: If you have Covid-19 or are experiencing symptoms of Covid and you can’t breathe, have an altered mental status or feel your life is at risk or in danger, come to the hospital. You should not come to the hospital to test to see whether or not you have Covid. If you’re symptomatic with a fever, cough or scratchy throat, assume you may have Covid, seek a test elsewhere and come to the hospital only if your life is in danger or if you’re unsure if you’re OK.
Herald: Is mask-wearing effective against preventing the spread of the Omicron variant?
Pardo: From the very beginning, we’ve encouraged mask-wearing
to avoid transmission of Covid-19. It is possible that particles get around the mask based on gaps in the mask and the quality of the mask itself. You want to make sure you have a tight seal around your face to have the best protection, and you want to make sure that the type of mask you’re using does not have a mask valve or exit port on it like a lot of the N95 masks do. We know that mask-wearing helps lower the transmission rate of Covid-19. This virus isn’t any different than any other virus in that regard.
Herald: How should you protect your body and mind from Covid-19?
Pardo: If you’re not boosted or vaccinated, please get your shots. That’s number one. Being vaccinated and getting a booster gives you the highest protection from any serious disease or death. Avoid large gatherings of more than 10 people. Try to congregate with others that are vaccinated. And be aware when in contact with the elderly, very young or those who have co-morbidities who are most at risk.
Toth: It’s important to take life one day at a time, focus on your own well-being, practice some mindfulness, surround yourself with loved ones, and listen and watch positive and uplifting messages. Make sure your body is physically active, adequately hydrated, and you eat nutritious food and go outside 20 minutes a day to get some outside fresh air, preferably when the sun is out. All this affects our mood and our sleep. You cannot have a healthy mind without a healthy body, and you can make subtle changes day by day to be in better shape at the end of the year than at the beginning.
Herald: How do we cope with the mental fatigue and mental health toll of the pandemic?
Toth: When you’re exposed to this incessant focus on the pandemic, there is absolutely this level of demoralization and hopelessness. We, as regular people, have very little control over that, but what we do have control over is how we respond and feel about everything. Eliminating any stressors and restructuring how we view things may be key to surviving these trying times.
Having said that, a lot of the stressors do come from financial hardships. And these are legitimate worries and concerns, and sometimes medication cannot help this, because this is a normal human reaction and not pathological. This is where social support and resources have to be better advertised. We do have a national budget crisis, so we don’t have extensive money available to fund mental health. We don’t have enough clinics, psychiatric and in-patient beds, especially now where we see an increase in the volume of people in need of mental health services. The demand is outweighing the supply. There is no simple answer to solving that.
Herald: What do I do if I want mental health help?
Toth: It depends on what kind of help is needed. If someone has active thoughts of suicide or had a suicidal gesture, that counts as an emergency, and they should go to the emergency room. For somebody who wants to talk to someone, I would encourage them to go on your insurance website and see who in your vicinity accepts insurance based on what you’re looking for, do Google searches typing in the type of therapy and your zip code to find nearby locations and of course reach out to a trusted friend or family member.
Herald: How has the hospital been coping with the latest Covid-19 surge?
Pardo: We’re seeing that most of our hospitalizations are for people who are unvaccinated or have high co-morbidities. We have a lot more employees contracting the virus, and for the safety of our patients, those people are not allowed to come to work, which leaves a shortage of staff, and mitigating that has been difficult.
We have seen a large influx of people seeking testing at the hospital with minor illnesses, especially over the holidays, which was a big stressor for us since we are short-staffed. Right now we have a large volume of patients with Covid in the hospital, which is creating a bed crunch, but that level of admissions is staying steady now, and we expect that to go down over the next weeks. We’re also seeing a lower severity of illness with the Omicron variant and less involvement of the lungs, which are good things.
Herald: How are hospital staff protecting themselves and others from Covid-19?
Pardo: We have a daily check-in where medical staff, to enter the hospital, have to do a wellness checklist and report any symptoms. And people self-report as well. People who have symptoms are brought to our Employee Health Service, where they get tested and action is taken depending on their test results and symptoms. If you test positive and are symptomatic, you wait until three days until you are without a fever, and you’re asked to wear an N-95 mask as long as you feel healthy enough to work.