Category Archives: Social Distancing

Year of calamities taking toll on mental health

Mental health professional: “In the past two weeks, my practice has exploded.”

San Francisco Chronicle, by Steve Rubenstein and Nora Mishanec, Sep. 11, 2020
Michael Waddell, a professional dog walker, out in Alamo Square Friday. He said the loss of dog-walking business has caused him more stress than the recent meteorological calamities.
Michael Waddell, a professional dog walker, out in Alamo Square Friday. He said the loss of dog-walking business has caused him more stress than the recent meteorological calamities. Photo: Nora Mishanec / The Chronicle

In a year of wondering what could possibly come next, the next things just keep on coming.

After eight months, they’re starting to add up, say mental health experts. And there’s lots of 2020 left, plenty of time for more next things.

“I’ve been hearing the word ‘apocalyptic’ a lot,” said San Francisco psychiatrist Scott Lauze. “I’m doing a tremendous amount of hand-holding these days. You can’t even rely on the color of the sky anymore.”

Lauze, in private practice for three decades, said he had never seen the call for his services take off like right now.

“In the past two months, there was a significant uptick in demand,” he said. “In the past two weeks, my practice has exploded.”

Pandemic, social unrest, heat waves. Wildfires. Smoke. Mass evacuations. Therapists call them stressors, and there has been no shortage of things to get stressed over.

And this just in: ash raining from the heavens, and darkness at noon.

“I couldn’t fall asleep,” said San Francisco nurse Valieree MacGlaun, who works the night shift and was walking home Friday on Divisadero Street from the VA hospital in her scrubs.

She said she feels overwhelmed, though her job is to help other people overcome feeling overwhelmed.

“This is my calling,” she said. “But you have to take care of yourself.”

Connie and Michael VonDohlen flew from their home in Tennessee to San Francisco on Wednesday to attend their daughter’s wedding, just in time for the dark orange daytime skies that made some locals say it felt like living on Mars. Streets were deserted. The VonDohlens, who don’t seem to shock easily, said they were shocked.

“We thought we had gone into the Twilight Zone,” Michael VonDohlen said. “I was expecting zombies to jump out from every doorway.”

“The fires, added to the pandemic, and the inability to escape — all that adds to the potential for hopelessness,” said emergency room psychiatrist Yener Balan, head of behavioral health services at Kaiser Permanente Northern California.

Calamity and malaise are part of the human condition, he said, and pondering the world wars endured by prior generations can put a virus or a wildfire in perspective.

Coronavirus live updates: SF urges people to stay inside due…
“As a species, we are resilient,” he said. “Many generations have seen this level of calamity.”

Taking care of oneself, living in the moment, checking in with family and friends, getting enough exercise and sleep — those are the keys to coping, Balan said. And turning off the TV and the computer when enough is enough — that helps, too. It also reduces exposure to the added stresses of a national election and its apocalyptic nuances.

“Just when you think you’re beginning to deal with one disaster, another one comes along,” said David Spiegel, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University. “Patients who have been stable are experiencing an exacerbation of depression and anxiety.”

The year 2020, he said, is turning out to be a “remarkable test of everyone’s ability to cope.”

Trying to cope in Alamo Square, while holding three dogs on a leash, was professional dog walker Michael Waddell. He used to wear a plain mask, for the virus. Now he wears a mask with an air filter, for the virus and the smoke. Different disaster, different mask.

Two in 5 U.S. adults say they are “struggling with mental health or substance abuse” since the pandemic hit, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the “prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder” were triple those of last year, the report added.

Even if psychiatrists are doing more business these days, Waddell said, dog walkers aren’t. Business has largely fallen off as people staying home can walk their own dogs.

Waddell’s usual complement of dogs is six. Losing half his income, Waddell said, “has added more to my immediate stress than the smoke or the wildfires.”

Dogs, who have no problem living in the moment, help. So do hobbies, said Melissa Smith, who was waiting for 5-McAllister bus. She said her therapy was to try “old lady hobbies.”

“This is the perfect excuse to take up knitting,” she said. “It’s a good outlet for the frustration. You need something to channel your energy.”

Smith was on her way home, where the knitting was waiting.

“What better place to practice peace than the middle of a storm?” she said. “I just think, after this, we are all going to be so resilient.”

State agents issue misdemeanor citations to Benicia, Vacaville, Vallejo businesses for coronavirus violations

Coronavirus: State cites several Solano eateries for violating state guidelines

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Kim Fu, July 25, 2020

Agents with the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control conducted compliance sweeps throughout Northern California earlier this month and found several eateries, including in Solano County, in violation of coronavirus guidelines.

John Carr, an ABC spokesman, said agents issued misdemeanor citations for violating state emergency health orders. A district attorney, he said, will determine whether to prosecute.

Meanwhile, ABC has not taken any action against licenses where the violations occurred, Carr said, as the violations remain under review. Should disciplinary action be pursued, business owners may request a hearing before an administrative law judge. Penalties can range from a fine to a suspension to a revocation.

Businesses cited between July 3-5 include:

  • Muay Thai Cuisine, Vacaville, for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
  • Kazan Japanese Cuisine, Vacaville, for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
  • El Patron Mexican Food, Vacaville, for employees not wearing masks.
  • Back Door Bistro, Vacaville, for employees not wearing masks.
  • Koreana BBQ, Fairfield, for indoor consumption.
  • Cullens Tannery Pub,  Benicia , for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.

Businesses cited between July 6-16 include:

  • Gentlemen Jims, Vallejo, for indoor consumption and employees not wearing masks.
  • The Loft,  Benicia , for employees not social distancing.

Social distancing urged as sunny weekend tempts Californians

[Editor: This story describes Southern California beaches, but I witnessed similar high usage of our Benicia 9th Street Alvarez Park beach and grounds yesterday.  Benicia currently follows Solano County’s recommendation that we all wear face coverings when in public.  – R.S.]

Heat wave draws ‘summer day crowd’ to California beach

Associated Press (Vallejo Times-Herald), April 26, 2020

Several people utilize a beach, Friday, April 24, 2020, in Malibu, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A spring heat wave drove an uptick of people to California beaches, golf courses and trails on Saturday, leading to the closure of one coastal park as authorities warned people not to swarm recreational areas for fear of igniting a deadly coronavirus surge.

Temperatures soared into the 80s and 90s in many areas from Sacramento to San Diego on Saturday. While most recreation remains shuttered under various stay-at-home orders, officials are wary that those still open could draw crowds that will ignore social distancing rules and seek sun and air after being mainly confined indoors for more than a month.

“We’re seeing a summer day crowd,” said Brian O’Rourke, a lifeguard battalion chief in Newport Beach in Orange County, which saw an estimated 40,000 people on Friday. A similar crowd was expected Saturday as the fog burns off.

Police in Pacific Grove said they had to close the picturesque Lovers Point Park and Beach at the southern end of Monterey Bay because of a lack of social distancing.

Los Angeles city and county beaches, trails and playgrounds were closed, and officers on horseback were patrolling those areas to enforce social distancing rules. The city also opened cooling centers for people “who might not be able to survive the heat wave at home,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said.

Everyone else should stay home rather than gathering outside, he pleaded.

Otherwise, “more people will be sick, and more will die,” Garcetti said, which could delay the city’s reopening because any spikes in virus cases could show up weeks later.

California has more than 41,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,670 deaths, half of them in the Los Angeles area, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. However, the number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

This week, health officials announced a Santa Clara County woman died in early February from COVID-19 — weeks before the first previously known U.S. death from the virus. An autopsy released by the county Saturday concluded she suffered a massive heart attack caused by coronavirus infection, which also spread to her trachea, lungs and intestines.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and death.

Cases continue to grow in California but at a manageable pace that hasn’t overwhelmed hospitals, health authorities have said. State and local stay-at-home orders have been cited as successfully slowing the rise in coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths. Recent polls show Californians overwhelmingly support them.

In San Francisco, church bells rang as people stepped outside in masks for a noontime rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” to thank front-line workers responding to the pandemic.

“It’s such a great way to bring community and unity to the city,” Justine Fox told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The song is a little sad, about leaving your heart behind, but that’s all right. It’s a little bit of a sad time right now.”

There have been several protests by people who want to reopen the state, contending their liberty and livelihoods are at stake. Three people were arrested at a rally in Encinitas, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of San Diego, Saturday and cited for violating health orders, San Diego County Sheriff’s Lt. Ricardo Lopez said.

South of Los Angeles in Orange County, the city of Laguna Beach closed its beaches. But a neighboring county beach was open, and city Mayor Bob Whalen was concerned that out-of-towners might spill over.

“Stay at home,” he pleaded. “Please don’t overwhelm us here.”

Police warned that violators could face misdemeanor citations that carry fines of up to $1,000.

Beaches in Ventura County, northwest of LA, were open but with some restrictions.

“Basically, you must keep moving. No sunbathing, chairs, blankets, coolers, sunshade umbrellas,” a county statement said Friday. “You must keep moving (while) walking, running, surfing and swimming.”

There already have been large crowds, and more people were anticipated, especially from neighboring LA County. But if they ignore restrictions, the beaches could be shut “for the foreseeable future,” said Mark Sandoval, director of the county Harbor Department.

San Diego County officials said beaches will reopen Monday to swimming, surfing, paddleboarding and kayaking, but not recreational boating. Strict social distancing rules still apply, meaning beachgoers cannot sit, lie down or engage in group activities.

Beaches operated by the state remain closed.

Some places were still tightening their social distancing rules.

On Friday, the city of San Jose announced it was barring people from using playgrounds, sports areas and exercise equipment at local parks.

Solano County extended its shelter-at-home order through May 17. San Francisco Mayor London Breed said the order there would likely be extended by several weeks.

Concerts, sports and other events that draw large crowds have been among the pandemic’s casualties. On Friday, officials announced the July cancellation of the annual California State Fair in Sacramento for the first time since World War II.

COVID-19 – California likely soon to allow food stamps for online grocery purchases

Feds: California could allow food stamp recipients to shop online during COVID-19 pandemic

Currently, CalFresh requires an in-person purchase at the grocery store, increasing virus exposure risk

Vallejo Times-Herald, By RUTH SCHNEIDER, Eureka Times-Standard, April 8, 2020
CalFresh recipients cannot currently shop online for groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the USDA said that could happen by the end of the month. (The Associated Press file)

California residents who receive CalFresh benefits to help pay for groceries are not able to buy food online. That forces the recipients to buy food in person at grocery stores — something that increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

But through acceptance into a pilot program, California is close to changing that.

“Enabling people to purchase food online will go a long way in helping Americans follow CDC social distancing guidelines and help slow the spread of the coronavirus,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a statement.

Six other states, including Washington and Oregon, already have the pilot program up and running that allows for the purchase of groceries from participating retailers including Amazon and Walmart.

Safeway, which has Humboldt County locations, is also authorized to work through the program, but a release from the USDA stated it’s not currently operational.

It’s unclear when the state will make the program operational. The USDA release stated “later this month” without providing a specific date.

The press office for Gov. Gavin Newsom did not respond to a request for comment on the situation on Wednesday.

Limited options

There are limited options for those who are confined to their homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Right now, what’s available is to reach out to friends, families and neighbors,” said Heidi McHugh, the community education and outreach coordinator for Food For People.

Those folks can help individuals purchase groceries.

The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, which helps individuals sign up for the benefits and tracks local enrollees, said people can be designated to use an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, also called an EBT card, that holds an individuals benefits.

“Recipients of CalFresh benefits, who are recommended to stay home and refrain from grocery shopping during the COVID-19 outbreak, can contact the call center at 877-410-8809 to designate an alternate cardholder and that person can grocery shop on the cardholder’s behalf,” DHHS spokesperson Meriah Miracle said in an email to the Times-Standard.

Emergency relief

McHugh said some CalFresh recipients will be eligible for boosts in benefits for March and April. She said those will be distributed on April 10 (for March) and May 10 (for April).

But not everyone will receive the boost. People who receive CalFresh benefits receive between $16 and $194 each month. Those who receive less than the full amount will receive the remainder they would receive if they were eligible for the full amount. For example, someone who receives $16 per month would receive an additional $178 but someone who receives $194 each month would not receive any additional funds.

“The emergency allotment is specific to COVID-19 issues,” McHugh said.

Food distribution

Food for People will be distributing food through an emergency drive-through on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the parking lot north of Sears at the Bayshore Mall. For more information, call 707-407-0447.