Past 3 Months of COVID Interviews: What We've Learned

John Whyte, MD, MPH

Disclosures

July 10, 2020

Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

  • We need to be guided by science, but science doesn't have black-and-white answers.

  • Guidelines on mask wearing and physical distancing weren't as strict at the beginning of the pandemic in the United States.

  • Rely on news from trusted sources and check the credentials of the writers.

  • We are experiencing a mental health epidemic, including such issues as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and an increase in substance abuse.

  • There is value in Deepak Chopra's STOP method: Stop what you're doing when you feel stressed. Take three deep breaths and smile. Observe your breath without analyzing it. Proceed with awareness and compassion, focusing on relationships.

  • "Coronavirus 15" is real; people are gaining weight while staying at home. It's important to resume physical activity and eat healthy and in moderation.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

John Whyte, MD, MPH: Hi, everyone. I'm Dr John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD and host of our daily news show called Coronavirus in Context. In the course of just a few short months, I've interviewed over 100 experts, including top government officials, leading scientists, key physician leaders, renowned influencers, and even cultural icons. Our one goal has been to put the avalanche of information about COVID-19 and the pandemic into context for you.

The first thing I learned is that we need to be guided by science, and that's easier said than done. Science isn't always black and white; it's often gray, and there's uncertainty in what we know. Remember, COVID-19 is a novel virus, and what we currently know often changes based on new information and data.

One of the largest efforts in history is being made by top minds all over the globe. It's a lot to keep up with. When I started our show in March, we didn't think masks or facial coverings were necessary for everyone. We soon learned that was not the case. New data came out and new recommendations followed. We need to adapt and to be flexible.

Have you gotten an antibody test? There was a lot of excitement about them early on, and experts even talked about "immunity passports" that would allow you to travel. However, Drs Racaniello and Schaffner taught us that many of these tests aren't as accurate as they need to be. So you should always ask, what would you do with that information when it comes to your personal behavior? Right now, you probably wouldn't change anything. Keep in mind that these tests will continue to evolve. Three months ago we didn't have any diagnostic or antibody tests, and 3 months from now they'll be much better.

The second thing I learned was that we need to be aware but not scared. We're in the middle of a global pandemic, the type that occurs once a century. We're also in an "infodemic," where there's a lot of misinformation. I get angry when I see claims of cures for coronavirus on social media. And remember how, early on, some people tried to say that Black people can't get coronavirus? And did you ever hear about hand dryers killing COVID-19?

This misinformation hurts people and might put them at increased risk. The experts I spoke to talked about the importance of going to trusted sources and cautioned us that not everyone who has a blog is an expert. Let's watch out for those armchair epidemiologists.

You want to check the credentials of who wrote it and whether there's any potential bias or vested interest. If possible, confirm the information in multiple places. The CDC and your state government websites are great places to start. And please take breaks from social media and the news; information isn't changing so rapidly that you need the hourly updates. You won't miss out on breaking news if you only check a couple times a day. You want to become aware and educated but not scared and overwhelmed.

The third thing I learned — and as a doctor, I think this is especially important — is that you need to take time for yourself. I heard from numerous people cautioning us to be prepared for the mental health epidemic that we're now experiencing: anxiety, depression, PTSD, increase in substance abuse. These are challenging times for our mental and physical health.

Deepak Chopra gave me some great advice, all around the word STOP: S: Stop what you're doing as soon as you feel stress. T: Take three deep breaths and smile. O: Observe your breath without analyzing it. P: Proceed with awareness and compassion. Focus on relationships, making other people happy. My good friend Arianna Huffington reminded us to think of something we're grateful for each time we wash our hands.

I also learned that the "coronavirus 15" is real. A survey conducted by WebMD confirmed that people have been gaining weight during the stay-at-home orders. But none of us are really surprised by that, are we? So now is the time to resume physical activities. Stand up and stretch for a few minutes right now. You may not be able to go to the gym, but there are things that you can do at home or outside. Eating healthy is also important as you think about your physical and mental health. Comfort foods still play a role, but the key is moderation. Food really is medicine, and it affects our mood and our health.

One big mistake I think we've made is around the words we use. I wish we used the term "physical distancing," as they do in Canada, instead of "social distancing." Because it's not about tuning people out of your life; it's about trying to find new ways to stay connected. Let's be realistic — things aren't going to be like they were pre-COVID for quite some time, and we need to adjust. That's what I've been trying to help you to do, and that's what I and my colleagues at WebMD will continue to do. Better information will lead to better health. We have a new normal, and we're going to get through this together.

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