Sequestered Sanity: A How-To

by Jennifer Clark, LMSW, and Mickey Desai

So, here we are, social distancing.  We are working from home. We are ordering take out.  We are staying away from our favorite exhibits, restaurants, and events.  If you’re like us, you miss people. And even if you’re just a massive introvert, social contact is still a part of healthy living. 

Social Isolation and Loneliness are Serious Health Issues

A Brigham Young University study suggests that the conditions of isolation or loneliness can be as bad as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day.  But the public health world adamantly maintains isolating is the right way to flatten the curve of contagion.  And they’re right.  Isolating is the right thing to do, even if it makes us a little loopy.  But you are not alone. The whole world is isolating with you. Maddening paradox, right?  Look, even if we’re not physically together, we will pull through this pandemic together. Here’s our recipe for doing this the right way.  This is a long recipe, but you’re worth it. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Stay Informed, But…

If you have to watch the news, partake mindfully.  Consider seeking out news online or via newspaper rather than by listening to the radio or watching TV.  When you use a live medium, the news–good or bad–pours over you without any control, and it’s sometimes difficult to filter out the unnecessary sensationalism.  If something triggering is announced on your television, it’s all over you before you can stop it. If you choose to read your news instead of watching or listening, you can pick and choose your sources and the articles you follow up on.

And if you do get your news online, remember almost all news agencies make a profit off of your clicks.  The headlines are as sensational as possible to get that click. Often the article itself is less interesting, or the headline might even be misleading.  Screen your sources. We encourage you to be very critical of the news, in general. If you are reading about COVID-19, we strongly encourage you to stick with information from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, or the National Institutes of Health.  Sometimes your local department of public health (usually a county-level entity) will have relevant, local updates, too.

Take Your Meds

If you have been prescribed medications, keep taking them on schedule.  I know we tell you this over and over, but it’s true. You can’t keep healthy if you don’t practice your baseline health measures.  

Stay on Schedule

Try to stay on a steady schedule.  Circadian disruption seems almost unavoidable, but it’s important to keep a healthy schedule.  If you don’t have a good schedule, adopt one for yourself today. Right now. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety and you stay awake in the dark, gaming all night and sleeping-in all day, this is assuredly going to make things worse for you as we get deeper into quarantine.  Don’t catch up on the news just before you go to bed. By the way, sleep is critical to keeping your immune system happy.  

Daylight

Also, while we are talking about daylight, get out in it.  Sitting in your backyard or on your front step still practices safe social distancing and gets you out in the light.  Do you do the meditation thing? It’s a great time to do some mindfulness exercises. Maybe even some yoga. Listen to the birds–they’re happy Spring is here.  Can you see the newly growing tree buds? Feel the grass under your feet?

Uplifting Entertainment

Consume books, movies, and music that lift you up and inspire you.  Be aware of your choices and avoid selections that might feed anger, despair, or loneliness.  We’re not going to judge you for watching Contagion back-to-back five times in five days if it was already your favorite movie.  If your jam is Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and that gets you motivated, go you! But if it makes you stabby, another choice might be better.

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Coronavirus, Conventions, and You

We’re all concerned about COVID-19.  Whether or not you’re one of the people who are buying out all the toilet paper on the eastern seaboard, we here at Usagi Medical Group would urge everyone to try to put their anxieties in check when it comes to COVID-19 and what it might do to the local convention scene.  Panic seems almost reasonable these days, but panic creates more trouble than it solves.

UsagiMed’s Advice for Convention Organizers

UsagiMed looks to our local (state and county) health departments, along with the CDC for the best and latest information on the virus, its current reach, and all the research being done to combat it.  We encourage you to do the same.  

UsagiMed cannot help you make the decision to cancel or postpone your show.  We can help inform you based on recommendations made by your local health departments, who are also in touch with the CDC and are taking their knowledge and data into account.

There are some innovations your con can make, not the least of which is making public health messaging a visible priority for your con attendees.  Emphasize the 20-second hand-washing regimen, 5-2-1 Rule, and the importance of staying hydrated.  UsagiMed does this with a series of posters, videos, and social media posts. While you’re at it, make sure water is freely available throughout the con.    

Consider implementing a policy that anyone who has any kind of illness should stay home, and that you’ll defer their membership to next year if they do.  Every year we see people show up to their con with the flu because they don’t want to waste their membership fees. Make it easier for people to stay home.  You care about your fans. You want to keep them safe. And you want to party with them when they are well.  

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UsagiMed COVID-19 for Anime/Fandom Convention-Organizers

By Laura Block, PharmD, NREMT

The only thing that we can predict about COVID-19 is that we can’t predict much.  This is a novel virus, and while the scientific community is discovering an amazing amount of information very rapidly, our society and this virus move even faster. 

As a convention-organizer, the best thing you can do is to develop a close relationship with your venue’s county, local, or state health department—specifically, their epidemiologists.  Invite them out for a beer. Studies have shown that the majority of scientists love beer, almost as much as they love sharing their science with others. As your event gets closer, four weeks out, two weeks out, one week out…, find out what their recommendations would be with regards to preventing viral spread at your event, up to and including postponing or cancelling your event. 

Let me reiterate, you want to talk to your local experts—the more local, the better.  Your local epidemiologists know best what’s going on in your specific community. The CDC has a ton of useful information, but is probably not going to have much to say about your locality or your event.  They are the big picture/guideline folks, and your local health department already takes their advice and knowledge into account. 

Stay in close touch with your venue and hotels.  Let them know that you are working in cooperation with the local health department.  Find out when the deadline is for cancelling/postponing without losing (much) money.  Keep them in the loop on what you’re hearing from the health experts and how that message may change the closer you get to your event date. 

You will need to innovate.  At the time of this writing (March 5th, 2020) CDC is recommending that people not touch each other, that we cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue that we immediately throw away, that we wash our hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when we can’t wash, that we not touch our faces, and that we keep about six feet of distance from each other. 

Now think about the last anime convention you went to.  How often did people maintain a distance of six feet from you?  How often was everyone touching the same door handles, escalator handrails, elevator buttons, and registration pens?  What innovations can you think of that might help? A “bring your own pen and box of tissues” drive for a special piece of convention swag?  Encourage sing-alongs in the bathrooms while people wash their hands? Provide hand sanitizer at the end of the registration line and at the elevator doors?  Perhaps a large tent outside to encourage more fresh-air mingling where it’s safer, regardless of the weather? How can you prevent bottlenecks and spread people out?  How can you encourage sick folks to stay home? Perhaps institute a program for exchanging a 2020 membership for a 2021 registration? 

Internally, your first-aid team and your administration need to agree on consistent messaging to convention attendees on how to stay as healthy as possible (such as the 5-2-1 Rule and the currently recommended infection control practices).  Work with your venue on creating signage and communication that will be permitted to remain posted during the duration of your event. Find out if they have stands for displaying signage together with hand sanitizer. 

We know that conventions put us at risk of the “con crud.”  This oft joked-about side-effect of fandom has its own entry in Urban Dictionary, and usually involves a respiratory infection that can be hard to shake.  Recently published articles suggest that attendees who get at least 5 hours of sleep a night are less likely to fall ill. And using the above interventions for social distancing and hand hygiene in a less extreme way can also be used to reduce the risk of flu and con crud.

Lastly, how can we help each other?  How can you communicate your best practices, innovations, successes, and misses to other convention organizers so that everyone stays as healthy as possible and so that our shows not just live, but thrive another year?  Do you collaborate with other events in your state? This is a good time to establish those relationships and collaborative efforts, and to support each other. And let us know what you think. Let’s start a dialogue. You can be sure we’ll be talking about this more on our Facebook pagePlease do join us there.