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Mon 30 November 2020
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Dr Dominic Pimenta shares his recommendations for socialising, personal protection, work and wellbeing through the Winter ahead

I have to admit, my initial response on hearing about COVID-19 in early February was nonchalance.

But my day job at the time took me on a safari across several London hospitals as a cardiology doctor and my attitude quickly changed. By the end of the month, I was wearing a mask on the tube, obsessing over the data from Wuhan and agitating for earlier and widespread intervention measures.

Like so many, my household has adapted to this COVID-19 life. As a doctor, with vulnerable family members, I’m often asked what adjustments we have made. In this article, I will share them – but this isn’t strictly medical advice or endorsement of any activity. It is just what we do and you are welcome to pick up or discard any of these as you feel befits your own life and attitude to risk.


Socialising

Firstly, the trap I see so many people fall into is the idea that if you are forced to do X (for example, taking the children to school), what is the point in avoiding Y (for example, going out to a restaurant)?

Ultimately, by that logic, we should either imprison ourselves at home with a stockpile of bunkered supplies or live our lives ignoring COVID-19 entirely. Neither of these is realistic. So we think about not eliminating risk completely, but mitigating it sensibly, on a spectrum.

Generally, we have reduced our socialising, but we do still see friends and family – always outside and always socially distanced. Outside spaces are many times safer than inside ones as ventilation is really key to reducing transmission of the virus in social settings.

Similarly, if we go to a restaurant, we always sit outside, bringing warm clothes and looking for heated tables. Keeping in touch is important so we have also been arranging video calls during the pandemic.


Personal Protection

In terms of personal precautions, our mask-wearing has upgraded since those early days, and we now have reusable and washable ones.

Our charity, helpthemhelpus.co.uk, partnered with chooseally.com, and all profits from our charity masks go to NHS workers. They are also really comfortable and have a filter, which may add a layer of protection.

We are quite strict about mask-wearing – as much for others’ benefit as our own. 

Hand in hand, pun intended, goes hand-washing. Although this seems obvious, at this point we wash our hands a lot more than pre-pandemic. We carry a little hand sanitiser too, for the kids at the park for example, and use soap wash whenever we come home.

Should we wash other surfaces as well? In general yes, although for shopping we don’t any more. The early evidence of spread on surfaces, called fomite spread, suggested that COVID-19 could last for a number of days, but real-life infection seems to be much less of an issue.

I would highly recommend finding a good ‘click and collect’ service for the weekly shop – we get a slot, it takes five minutes to pick up, and there is no need to go inside the store. Again, risk mitigation is the key. 


Work and School

With regards to work, we as a family spent the summer doing as much as possible to move to home or remote working.

This certainly isn’t possible for everyone, especially as key workers, but if it is something you can do, investing some time and money into creating somewhere to ‘go’ at home to work is well worth it. This may not need to be either/or, but reducing working days again reduces exposure and reduces risk. 

For the kids, we pulled our little one out of nursery last month, when track and trace failed. Without an effective Test, Track and Isolate system we felt that the risk of transmission was too high – children cannot really socially distance at all and, in the Winter months, indoor spaces are a much higher risk for respiratory viruses.

We set up an area to do some pre-schooling at home and make sure they go out every single day, whatever the weather, otherwise we all go insane. This required some wardrobe tweaks, including waterproof overalls and wellies. 


Mental and Physical Wellbeing

Dominic Pimenta

Exercise. This is absolutely vital, to both physical and mental health. I’ve had major issues with back pain from home-working life and found pilates useful.

Oddly enough, I also found a cure for my cold-induced asthma, that would normally leave me wheezing and coughing after running in the Winter air – a mask. It humidifies and warms the air and I don’t wheeze anymore. 

This is going to be a tough Winter for all of us. Accepting that, and planning for it, has been really helpful to me, especially for my own sanity. We should all take care of our ‘brain hygiene’ as much as possible – read more; smartphone less. I have used the Centre For Human Technology’s recommendation to make my smartphone healthier to use – I’d heartily recommend it. 

Good luck everyone and stay safe.

Dr Dominic Pimenta is a London-based doctor and writer. His book ‘Duty of Care’ is available now, with all royalties going to Heroes, a charity supporting healthcare workers


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