Thursday, February 18, 2021

Rotary speaker addresses vast effects of virus

Julie Brown, Special Writer

Opening K-12 schools in Michigan - proposed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for March 1  - is complex, says Dr. Debra Pinals, M.D. as are many effects of the current pandemic facing the entire country. 

Pinals is a psychiatrist and serves as the medical director for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Behavioral Health and Forensic Programs.

“It's really obviously complicated. There are no simple answers. Sometimes it's hard to know what is the right balance,” she said, of returning students to classrooms.

Pinals, speaking Feb. 9 via Zoom to members of the Wayne Rotary Club, suggested parents talk to the principal at their child's school about the situation. She noted the emotional connections K-12 students have in school.

Another factor in the return to face-to-face learning is vaccinations for teachers, which is a factor in the safety of both students and staff members. Vaccinations are voluntary, she noted, and many unknown factors remain about the rapidly mutating virus.

The pandemic is a world-wide disaster, she said, and while federal funding usually follows disasters, weather-based ones often have a pre-disaster warning.  As people pull together after such an occurrence, there is common cohesion which is then often followed by disillusionment with “frayed nerves”.

COVID has dragged on, with a continuing fear of infection, frustration and boredom exacerbated by loss of social contact. She urged listeners to visit for a variety of resources on coping with the novel coronavirus.

“We may be in hard times but we can be hopeful,” the physician said. “The crisis will end.”

She said it is key to get the vaccine and to acknowledge losses. Prior bad circumstances in life can be called on to remind people that the situation will get better.

“That is one of the amazing things about humanity,” said Pinals, who's also impressed with another recent Wayne Rotary speaker, a Tuskegee Airman who spoke about being a prisoner of war.

Volunteering is also good for the volunteer,” said Pinals, who did literacy work at a point in her life. “Even on a micro level ... people on the receiving end might be able to take it in,” she added of greetings like “How are you?” to strangers and “Thank you”.

Examples of coping strategies given on her Zoom call include listening to comedies and exercising. Pinals noted the children's recommendations on the website, such as coloring with crayons or listening to music, work for grownups, too.

“We know people are trying to access that vaccine,” said Pinals, noting it's “a supply issue. Just the logistics and coordination was a learning curve.”

She noted a June 2020 Centers for Disease Control survey found 40 percent of U.S. adults had issues with mental health and/or substance use. She agreed surveys have their limits and should be taken with a grain of salt.

“There's a lot of cultural issues,” Pinals agreed with a participant's assessment of another state where many believe COVID-19 doesn't exist.

Pinals thanked Wayne Rotarians Laura and Milton Mack for the invitation to speak. “I think they're an amazing couple,” she said of Laura Mack, a retired 29th District Court judge, and her husband, who also served as a judge at the Wayne court, and recently retired from the Probate Court bench.