May 5, 2020 — The restaurants have tables ready. The malls are open. The barber is taking appointments.
But as some states start relaxing their coronavirus stay-at-home guidelines, are people ready?
While scenes of crowded parks and beaches show that some people have quickly embraced these restored freedoms, others aren’t budging from the safety of their homes. Or if they are, they are doing it slowly.
Cara Blair is a pregnant mom of four in Atlanta, the capital of one of the first states to relax restrictions in late April.
Blair has followed strict shelter-in-place guidelines, leaving home only for doctor’s visits. She made an exception this weekend when her family gathered with her parents, 6 feet apart, in a mall parking lot to watch the Navy’s Blue Angels and Air Force’s Thunderbirds perform in honor of essential workers. But that will be it, for now.
“Reopening is causing me a lot of anxiety. Not because I’m not ready, but because I don’t feel we, as a society, are ready,” she says. “I’m anxious to get out, I wish I could, I just don’t feel comfortable. I don’t trust anyone else to tell me when it’s safe.”
Blair’s anxiety is shared by others. A poll of more than 3,100 WebMD readers found that 26% said they felt a sense of trauma from COVID-19, with 25% afraid to go to the store and 15% afraid to leave their house. The poll, which ran May 3 and 4, also found that 77% had not sought counseling.
The roller coaster of emotions the world is experiencing right now, as businesses and communities reopen and families cease sheltering in place, is “normal and expectable” for a disaster, including a pandemic, says Joshua Morganstein, MD, chair of the American Psychiatric Association Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster. “It will improve over time. Most people will find ways to cope and move forward.”
He says sheltering in place may be more likely to add to distress and challenges. “But everyone’s experience is different,” he says. “The more concern someone feels as they begin to participate with other elements of the society again, the less likely they may want to engage in it. But if not having to stay home means once again being able to put food on the table, it might be a very welcome change.”
Morganstein cautions against labeling COVID-19 worries and concerns as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or “right now” stress disorder, as some have now labeled it.
“Some people will have anxiety. Most people will experience concern,” he says. “Then there will be a small percentage of people who may develop, as a result of other things they’ve been exposed to, PTSD, but that’s not the case simply by virtue of coming out of one’s home after being homebound or following stay-at-home orders.”
In Dallas County, Texas, which has the second-highest number of reported coronavirus cases in the state, quinceañera dress shop owner Juan Balderas fears a consecutive 2-day spike in coronavirus cases over the weekend could prompt another shutdown.The 40-