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El Paso infectious disease expert offers advice on living safely but actively in a COVID-19 world

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As El Paso enters the sixth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious disease expert Dr. Ogechika Alozie talks about the importance of not letting one’s guard down when it comes to navigating life during the ongoing spread of the virus. 

Alozie, chief medical officer at Del Sol Medical Center and an infectious disease specialist, answered El Paso Matters’ questions about what people should be keeping in mind as some people have grown weary of the pandemic.

Dr. Ogechika Alozie

His key message: continue to be diligent, continue to be mindful.

Question: What are simple things people can take into consideration during this time that the community is growing tired of the pandemic?

Answer: Everybody has to make their own sorts of decisions around what their risk profile is. Some people are perhaps wanting to send their children back to school, some people haven’t.

There’s no right or wrong to it, it’s just an understanding that you’re at a higher risk if you are at congregate settings where there are more people than if you are not.

It’s really hard for people, especially as we are going through this, it’s really hard to get people to just shut down completely.

We’re never going to be Italy or China or any of those places where they completely shut down, so I think where we are — thankfully, again our numbers in the city and the community have gone down drastically — you are going to get people that are going to be a little bit looser.

I think we are in this space where we need to learn how to live through this. I think the key has to be when we do engage, look at the number.

It’s important for people to understand if you are going to engage, engage in small groups. 

I know a host of parents that have started to create class pods (which are) a number of parents that already were hanging out anyway, or kids were hanging out throughout the summer, they create a school pod.

So four to six kids can get together, wear masks and attend school because they were all in the same classes, or even if they are not in the same classes, it’s more palatable to go to somebody’s house per week.

I think the pod concept is something that people have started to talk about, and I think it’s fair, but with due diligence around hygiene, masking and not going somewhere when you’re sick. 

I don’t think there’s any magic bullet to this, truthfully.

Q: When you are out in public and not at work, how do you navigate groceries, what do you personally try to do or avoid?

Ar: The only thing I do from a shopping standpoint is food, so I go to Albertsons or Walmart, then Walgreens. My kids have allergies and I take some medication, so I pick that sort of stuff up, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc., Lysol, all that fun stuff.

Then, we’ve tried to re-engage.

Walmart has installed a variety of safety measures, including Plexiglass barriers between cashiers and customers, as part of a COVID-19 mitigation strategy. (Photo by Stephanie Chavez/Borderzine.com)

We will meet, so small groups two to three maybe four max, wear our masks, try to distance as much as possible around the table and try to engage in that way. 

Q: When you personally go out in public, going to stores, how do you protect yourself?

A: I’m a 100 percent mask guy whenever I go out, whether it’s Walmart or Walgreens, if I have needed to go somewhere whether for family reasons or social reasons.

I’ve never actually worn a face shield even when I am seeing patients, just a mask and hand hygiene. 

Q: What can we be telling people regarding COVID-19? 

A: Anything we can do to help people understand where we are. I used to say in the early days we are just in the first or second inning of a baseball game and that was back in April/May.

And it’s unfortunate how things have transpired over the summer, but even if we were in the fifth or sixth inning we’re not even to the final stretch of this yet. We’re still going to have to figure out how to engage, how to manage this year into next year and potentially into next summer based on vaccines and therapeutics that come out.

I think it’s important for people to realize this is not disappearing in the summer, it’s not going to disappear just because we have a vaccine because not everybody is going to get the vaccine early on. Not everybody is going to get the vaccine at all.

As we get through this next phase, which is going into the fall and influenza (season), I think people just have to continue to be diligent and don’t have to be on edge for months at a time, but it’s also important for people to understand as they potentially begin to expand their circles and engagement they have to be just as diligent around masking and hand hygiene and when they can reduce their risk they should reduce their risk.

Q: How critical is Labor Day to the spread of COVID-19?

A: I personally think that people will not be (as engaged) as they were a year ago, knock on wood. I hope that’s the plan, but again, I think people need to be careful.

Social distance markers have become ubiquitous at stores around the world in recent months. (Photo by Stephanie Chavez/Borderzine.com)

That’s really what this boils down to: people need to be careful. They need to continue to take precautions and when they do need to engage in society they need to do it in a reasonable manner. So congregate gatherings —  50 people, 100 people — it doesn’t make sense.

People need to also understand, I feel that it’s OK to be frustrated, it’s OK to be tired, it’s OK to be exhausted.

We need to be gentle on ourselves. We need to be gentle on ourselves and understand that we are going through hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime event. That the normal is not just going to reappear automatically at the snap of a finger, we have to be gentle on ourselves.  

As a community we have to congratulate ourselves, but not rest on our oars. We as a community have done well with reducing the spread of COVID. Unfortunately there have been losses, families are struggling through that. We have to grieve with those families, but at the same time we have to understand that we’re not done yet.

So we have to continue to be diligent around how we move, how we engage and really be gentle on ourselves and understand that sometimes we make mistakes and if we make a mistake, just like workouts or diet, you try again the next day.

I think that’s really what it’s all about, day-by-day.

Cover photo: Shoppers at Bassett Center wear face coverings, a step that health experts say is a key step to reducing spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Stephanie Chavez/Borderzine.com)

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Elida S. Perez

Elida S. Perez is a longtime community and investigative reporter. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities reporter with the Salem, Oregon, Statesman Journal.

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