European Union Policy Studies

The Underexposed Risks of Prolonged Quarantine

How COVID-19 affects global physical and mental health


 
Quarantine

By Bryan Eagle

It is impossible in today’s climate to discuss global politics or new developments without naming Covid-19 as either the topic itself or as an external influence on the topic. As the number of global cases exceeds 3 million, and the death toll over 235 thousand as of April 30th, many have begun to question how the disease has impacted other aspects of their lives outside of health. In fact, political discourse has taken a partisan turn, as the virus continues to loom over the financial security of many middle and lower-class workers, as well as retailers and small businesses which have been labeled as “non-essential”. This, of course, is the result of the ongoing lockdown measures that have been implemented globally with different scales and different techniques in place. As these measures take place to combat the disease, a vacuum has been let loose pulling in unforeseen consequences that challenge government responses with one question: are the products of the lockdown more threatening than the disease itself? The products in question are referring to other harmful or potentially lethal side effects born out of social distancing and isolation, such as afflictions to one’s mental health and nutrition, and limitations to maintaining a healthy daily physical regimen. Alternatively, lockdown measures have affected the global populace by restraining businesses, decreasing household incomes, and stifling production yields and supply chains. These other consequences subsequently have the potential to lead to more hazards or death, such as with heart attacks, suicide, and starvation, at their extremes. This article elucidates the other risks that could occur from a prolonged shutdown.

The Risk That is COVID-19 

As the discussion on the viability of continuous shutdowns becomes more heated, the reader should note that there is no discrediting of the severity of the virus itself. In fact, it is evident that the virus is a uniquely potent strain of coronavirus that is highly contagious, and has the potential to cause death or complications resulting in death, according to the World Health Organization. Healthcare professionals note that the virus is extremely volatile in its severity, making it difficult to pinpoint explicit causes for serious1 cases2. Another issue is determining the number of asymptomatic cases (individuals that show no signs of illness) relative to the recorded cases, making it difficult to determine the actual infection and death rate3. For this reason, it is entirely possible that the death rate is much lower than we currently think, or possibly the infection rate is much higher. Other, newer information suggests that many cases of coronavirus have displayed symptoms that are too difficult to discern from other mild illnesses, due to the long list of symptoms associated with the virus, which overlap with flu and common cold symptoms4. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) lists 13 observable symptoms that could indicate that an individual has contracted the virus; however, in some cases that are not asymptomatic, a patient may exhibit just one or two mild symptoms, which could be overlooked and mistaken for a different illness if one were to self-diagnose themselves, or perhaps through malpractice by a certified medical professional5. Under these circumstances, those that are infected, may not seek medical attention, making these cases impossible to record. Thus, scientists and healthcare professionals are finding extreme difficulty in determining the virality of a disease or illness if a portion of cases are impossible to record. This problem would then affect government response to containment and possibly result in over-cautious procedures, which would lead to negative societal consequences which COVID has not directly caused. 

Deteriorating Lifestyles: How COVID affects our Mental and Physical Health

The obvious consequences of COVID-19 have been elucidated through popular media coverage, which mostly focuses on the immediate health complications of the virus. However, reports have made headlines indicating that nutritional health and body maintenance has been on the decline since the lockdown6. Unfortunately, nutritional health has been a national issue for the United States, especially for those with lower household incomes. According to a survey conducted by the CDC in 2015, around 80% of Americans fail to eat the proper amount of fruits and vegetables needed for their daily diets7.

Another study found that physical activity has unsurprisingly declined by 32.3% in previously active participants since nationwide lockdowns have been implemented in the United States. At the same time, many Americans tend to overeat refined sugars and grains8. This all contributes to an estimation that a staggering 36% of American adults may be suffering from mild to severe obesity, by CDC standards9. European Union Member States also suffer from a similar problem, although not to the same extent as the United States. A report published by the European Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates rates of obesity and overweight adults and children in 28 member states. The report showed that as of 2016, the average percentage of overweight adults in the European Union was consistently around 60%, with higher amounts in comparison to females10. The WHO also predicts that the number is for both sexes is set to rise by 10% by 2025 without proper precautions implemented to curb adult obesity. Europe also suffers from child obesity, similar to the United States, with Italy and Greece leading the way in the number of both overweight (>40%) and obese (>20%) childhood males11. While it is well known that obesity can lead to prolonged complications to health in both adults and children, it is made an unfortunate accomplice to the virality of COVID-19. Obesity has long been linked to complications with the immune system, meaning that a significant amount of the population in Europe and the United States are more likely to contract COVID-1912. 

There is no evidence to suggest that people are gaining excessive weight during the lockdown; however, it is also less likely that the population is not getting a proper amount of cardiovascular exercise to maintain a healthy immune system, and increase vaccine responsiveness13. Alternatively, a lack of nutrition and exposure to sunlight could be harmful to one’s immune system as well. Recently, researchers have linked that vitamin D deficiency has a high correlation to the immune system’s inability to fight the virus, resulting in more severe cases14. Of course, vitamin D has always been known to strengthen our immune system, and while food products such as eggs and dairy contain a healthy amount, sunlight is most certainly our best source for the vitamin15While under strict quarantine orders, individuals would certainly have a lack of access to one of their greatest sources of vitamin D. However, even countries with strict policing such as the United Kingdom (UK) allow citizens to leave their households for “one form of exercise a day”16. Now UK ministers encourage more activity outside, revising their “reasonable excuse” rule under its Health Protection Regulation 2020, to promote physical and mental health. However, experts suggest that exercise during quarantine has remained low due to higher cases of depression or complications from other mental health problems.

On the topic of mental health, the consequence of prolonged isolation and social distancing has contributed to increased anxiety, paranoia, depression, and suicide cases throughout the world17. Under extreme crises such as the pandemic, stress and anxiety have been known to amplify18Currently, researchers suggest that the anxiety produced by the pandemic is reaching near levels known during the aftermath of 9/11, yet the case is broader for COVID-19 as it continues to threaten the financial and medical security of the global populace19. It should be noted that while isolation been unhealthy for many Americans and Europeans, the rise in unemployment and the prospect of facing financial ruin has added to global depression and suicide. However, coupled isolation (maintaining isolation with a partner or family member) has also led to increased cases of mental health issues, as well as cases for domestic abuse. While the United Kingdom has relaxed its curfew restrictions to give potential abuse victims more freedom and escape. In France, domestic abuse had increased by 32%, resulting in government funding hotels to house victims.

Lastly, The media’s excessive exposure of the virus’s virality and lethality has a significant portion of panic and paranoia in global populations, as many have taken to avoiding health facilities for diseases unrelated to COVID-19, in fear that these facilities are receptacles for the virus. Healthcare professionals now worry that other big killers such as stroke and heart attacks/disease may run rampant as individuals avoid health checkups and emergency visits. Some state hospitals such as those in New Jersey and New York have taken to refusing elective surgeries as well, in order to prevent non-COVID patients from crowding hospitals. This tactic had seemingly worked, yet, elective surgeries allegedly account for a large portion of hospital revenue.18 Again, the measures taken to mitigate exposure to the virus has also made certain aspects of subsidizing medical care unavailable.

Conclusion

There is no arguing that the initial global response to the crisis was necessary for flattening the curve of COVID-19 cases. And while it still seems necessary to maintain look downs and isolation to protect the most vulnerable, the restrictions in place also have the possibility to promote more unhealthy lifestyles amongst adults and children. This could then potentially lead to extended periods of nationwide restrictions and shutdowns. It seems that considering obvious concerns for other aspects of human health, governments have begun to relax their laws in order to alleviate stress on non-infected victims of the pandemic. It still remains relevant, however, to note that COVID-19’s ability to stymie researchers with new developments has made it difficult to pinpoint why it afflicts some and not others. Additionally, the high number of undiagnosed mild and asymptomatic cases means that the contagious and deadly nature of the virus may be sorely overestimated.


 

[1] https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/04/20/we-tested-all-our-patients-covid-19-found-lots-asymptomatic-cases/

[3] https://www.health.com/condition/infectious-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-symptoms-vs-cold

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html

[5] https://www.cambridge.org/engage/coe/article-details/5eb2056d7a31fc00183d05db

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6426a1.htm

[7] https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/08/03/487640479/75-percent-of-americans-say-they-eat-healthy-despite-evidence-to-the-contrary

[8] https://www.cambridge.org/engage/coe/article-details/5eb2056d7a31fc00183d05db

[9] http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/355973/ENP_eng.pdf?ua=1

[10] http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/243419/Summary-document-28-MS-country-profile.pdf?ua=1

[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/health/coronavirus-obesity-higher-risk.html

[12] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163712000438

[13] 

[14] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-lockdown-laws-rules-what-can-you-do-uk-a9441091.html 

[15] https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/4/988/htm?fbclid=IwAR1b4Byb9pVogCdwkR84gXeqdoaATw6lpbGCCr1CWeGDxV7zz52ML1nV_JM 

[16] https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/qj445q/un-says-coronavirus-pandemic-is-worsening-the-global-mental-health-crisis 

[17] https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/medical/coronavirus-pandemic-worsens-anxiety-fears-of-9-11-survivors/ar-BB12yQuy

[18] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/domestic-abuse-rises-lockdown-france-fund-hotel-rooms-200331074110199.html

[19] https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/22/health/coronavirus-hospitals-heart-health-statement/index.html

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Published: Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Last Updated: Thursday, May 21, 2020

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