By Perry Smith
Sunday Signal Editor
Signal Staff Writer
To mask or not to mask? That question and many more around staying healthy during a time that appears to be the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic in California may be on the minds of many people.
In May, the state announced the most recent evolution of public health orders keeping Californians safe. Starting June 15, social distancing mandates and capacity restrictions will be a thing of the past. Those who are fully vaccinated can be in public outdoors without a mask, while those who aren’t probably should wear one if in a crowd.
As orders change in response to the evolving pandemic conditions, Californians can implement safety best practices to keep themselves and their loved ones out of harm’s way.
Dr. Vivek Bhatt is an internal medicine specialist with UCLA Health in Santa Clarita. He said being healthy takes many forms during this time of change
“Something that people can definitely still continue to be very cognizant of is hand hygiene, whether it’s with alcohol-based hand sanitizers or washing your hands with soap and water regularly,” Bhatt said.
Bhatt said that keeping a hand sanitizer bottle readily accessible like in your pocket or a purse should continue during the initial phases of reopening.
“It’s not as socially constricting to sanitize your hands every, every so often.,” Bhatt said, comparing it wearing facemasks. “That’s something that I’ve been telling a lot of my patients to definitely continue doing.”
Bhatt said he recommends that patients continue wearing facemasks, even if they are fully vaccinated.
“If it’s not something that is too socially burdening for them, a lot of people have gotten used to mask,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed this year of not only not catching COVID, but also not catching the common cold, rhinovirus, getting the flu.”
Especially for those who aren’t vaccinated, Bhatt said he recommends they continue to wear facemasks and get vaccinated.
“If you’re vaccinated, that will obviously significantly reduce your risk (of getting coronavirus),” Bhatt said. “So, for the person that wants to go back to normal and take off their mask and go back to how life was before, I highly encourage them to be vaccinated.”
Being healthy still means taking a preventive health approach that includes maintaining a strong immune system through a healthy diet and sleeping well.
“Eating a healthy diet that has the vegetables and fruits that you need in every meal would be of utmost importance,” said Bhatt.
Healthy habits like a good diet, sleep and staying compliant with any physician-prescribed medications help keep the immune system from becoming suppressed, putting at most risk of acquiring COVID-19 or any viruses.
“That happens when you’re stressed for whatever reason, whether it’s from, you know, lack of sleep or job-related stress, stress at home,” Bhatt said, “so I would recommend to definitely focus on your mental health, as well.”
Anxious about re-entry
“When you talk about what’s safe or not, that’s a really big issue — because it’s hard to know when it’s safe or not,” said Larry Schallert, assistant director of the College of the Canyons’ Student Health & Wellness/Mental Health Program.
“You really got to take care of yourself, you really have to do the self-care types of things that we’ve been preaching, but you also have to … if you’re not feeling safe, then you need to do as much social distancing as you feel comfortable with.”
Schallert recently gave a workshop “You Are Not Alone!” hosted by the Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley, which focused on “the impact of COVID-19 on society and the individual.”
The reality is there can be a range of emotions that can be significantly different from person to person based on the individual, and so a person really has to take care of themselves, and make sure they’re doing what’s referred to as “self-care.”
“You have to do as much social distancing as you feel comfortable with,” Schallert added, noting if you are feeling anxiety more than usual, there are a number of resources available listed at BeTheDifferenceSCV.org, which was organized by local mental health experts from the city, college and Department of Mental Health.
In terms of reaching out for questions, whether it’s for anxiety, depression or just seeing if there are any tools out there that might help someone feel happier or more comfortable with their mental health, there are a number of affordable ways that people can find help, Schallert added.
Samuel Dixon Family Health Center recently expanded its offerings for free and low-cost mental health services, according to Gloria Mercado-Fortine, president of the board for the community health clinic’s organization.
Philip Solomon, COO for Samuel Dixon, said the program started with a few licensed social workers part-time and, along with great partnerships through other community services like Child & Family Center, the program has expanded to meet a growing demand.
Providers are hopeful that raising awareness of services will help people overcome the stigma. For many, that surrounds getting help, too.
“Every year, absolutely (the program) continues to grow, as it becomes more acceptable to speak out about your illness that you may have, or the need that you have for any mental health support,” Solomon said. “We can only see that demand continue to grow.”
Learn more about UCLA Health Santa Clarita at uclahealth.org/santa-clarita. College of the Canyons’ Student Health & Wellness/Mental Health Program is online at canyons.edu/studentservices/health. Find Samuel Dixon Family Health Center online at sdfhc.org.