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Published on December 28, 2020

It's a New Year, But COVID-19 Is Still Here: Tips for a Healthy 2021

2021 is right around the corner! Zoe Stallings, MD, talks about taking care of your health in the new year during COVID-19 in this 2 Your Well-Being discussion with WFMY News 2.

Can we stop wearing masks and social distancing as people start to get vaccinated?

“The vaccine is not to replace the mask. We still want you to keep your mask and still observe those 3 W’s: wearing your masks, washing your hands and making sure that you keep space between you and the next person. What the vaccines aim to do is to help our immune system get further along so that we create those antibodies to help us fight the infection. So similar to the flu vaccine, we still want you to maintain the proper precautions, but the vaccine can help long term, reducing the severity of the illness as well as protecting those who are the most at risk of the worst outcomes such as our elderly or people in health care or even our young children who have underlying conditions. So we really want to think about it as a way of decreasing the severity of disease - preventing in the future, but for now, the mask is still going to be critical.”

Will the 3 W’s still be important in 2021? How long will we have to practice them?

“I think that in terms of what we're learning now about how we are a global community, our thought process in the health care community is that if the disease or a virus starts in one country, it could be across the globe in a matter of hours. So I think going forward, we should make it a part of our regular practice to wash our hands. This is not something - it shouldn't be new, but we have to emphasize that. And it needs to be a part of our culture to always cover our mouths when we sneeze. And there might come a time in the future when we don't wear masks, but it should always be ingrained in our awareness or consciousness that we need to protect ourselves and others around us by keeping our bacteria or viruses to ourselves, because that's how we get other people sick.”

How do we maintain healthy social interaction for our mental health as we practice COVID-19 safety?

“I know that I personally I miss hugs. And I'm one of those people who would greet people. And so now, it doesn't mean that my warmth is not there – what it means is that when I bump elbows, I greet with a brighter smile… what I try to do is I use positivity as my greeting. I wish people good health. I emphasize to people who are going through a hard time that I pray for them. I talk with people about their struggles and I feel like I'm more connected emotionally to people now that I can't touch them with my hands. I can touch them with my heart. I do want you all to think about reaching out with your emotions more than you reach out with your hands, because the germs on your hands can hurt people, but the good warm feelings in your heart in 2021 can really do a great deal to help others.”

What elements of a healthy lifestyle are key as we enter another year with coronavirus?

“I still think that one of the keys for us, especially for people who may not have made that time or that priority of going for their checkups, is to think about, ‘I want to be healthy.’ So maybe you are not going be one of the first to get the COVID vaccine, but what about the flu vaccine, the pneumonia vaccine, your tetanus vaccine? Get those vaccines. That's a huge part of your preventative health plan. Talk to your doctor about screenings. Are you fifty and older? Have you had a colonoscopy? You can visit and find a primary care doctor to do those screenings. In the community, you might see a mobile van that is doing mammograms - reach out and get your checkups.

“We want you to stay as healthy as possible and to be as proactive as possible. So in 2021, we want you to think about exercising, eating your fruits and vegetables, thinking about your mental health. Now that many clinics are seeing such a volume of anxiety and depression, at Cone Health, they have embedded mental health within the primary care setting to get you started so that you can address your anxiety and your fears. Also think about things that are hereditary. If you see that there's diabetes in the family, be proactive, because once again, people who have had the worst outcomes are a lot of people who have had underlying conditions. So let's work on those underlying conditions in 2021 and some of those start with a health screening.”

What should people who are delaying care due to COVID-19 fears know?

“I've heard patients ask me, ‘Can I go to my eye doctor? Can I go to my dentist? I don't want to get my colonoscopy, I have to go into a location. I don't want to get a mammogram.’ And what I’ll tell you is that many of the times the measures that are taken at the desk to check in to even get your blood drawn, you have to show up in a mask. You will not be allowed into any health care facility without a mask, but also, we are prepared for you. We get up early and we get to work and we sanitize for you. We do this to keep you safe, but we also do this to keep ourselves safe.”

“This time is the time where we really need to double down on staying healthy. And so my plea is that [for you to go to the] dentist who woke up early to get there is waiting to screen you for gum disease and oral cancer. Because oral cancer and gum disease, they're not going to sit back and wait because of the pandemic. It still is going on.  We've seen women are still diagnosed with breast cancer getting chemo at the breast center. And we've seen where their specialists show up for them. So don't delay your care because we are right there with you and we're waiting for you, we are cleaning, we are sanitizing. We're maintaining distance. We have created virtual visits so that we can do some of that work virtually, but we are in this business to keep you healthy and we're waiting and we're here to serve you.”

What recommendations do you have for effective New Year’s resolutions in 2021?

“I remember a year ago talking about New Year's resolutions, and what I would tell people is to think of it as each day is another opportunity to do something well for yourself. So instead of a big laundry list of resolutions, I would encourage patients to think about maybe exercising for 25 minutes instead of 15. So making measurable, small goals that will achieve a bigger goal down the road. Also, think of ways that they can even work on some of their finances. This is going to be a time in which people are either downsized or their jobs are changing, so think about ways that you can save because the leading cause of stress right now besides health is finances.”

“So think about how that will impact your overall well-being and making those measurable goals. But I always emphasize to start with exercise, think about sleep and think about a balanced diet. And once you achieve those, add on a few more goals, but I think baby steps might be the key for 2021.”

It's a New Year, But COVID-19 Is Still Here: Tips for a Healthy 2021

2 Your Well-Being

Cone Health and WFMY News 2 are excited to partner together to provide health and wellness information for you and your family. Watch Cone Health experts on television and online.

Tune in to WFMY News 2 every Monday to watch health segments on a variety of wellness topics.