Responding to

“A relentless struggle leads to
unrelenting fatigue.”

Vincent Okay Nwachukwu
Human behavior is not logical. If it were, the pandemic would be significantly more under control. As it is, our fears and desires are driving our behavior as much as, if not more than, our logic. The numbers show it.

The state's cases of COVID-19 and rolling average of cases have risen and continue to rise. In the past two weeks, the state has seen 3,068 new positive cases, representing 21.5% of the total positive cases statewide over the course of the pandemic. These trends are similar to upticks creating health care and hospital resource shortages in neighboring states and across the country. In Santa Fe County, we have 302 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 40-49 year olds representing the largest age group.

The thing about the crisis is that, even with the limited information we have about the virus, we know what to do to slow its spread and help keep ourselves and others as safe as possible. Wearing face masks, social distancing, hand washing and staying home (or at least away from crowds of any size) are all pretty straightforward actions that most of us can manage. So what's getting in the way?

Back in May, I talked about how pandemics have two possible endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes. Essentially, an end can occur not because a disease has been eliminated but because people grow tired. Unfortunately, wishing that the pandemic would be over and behaving as if it is do not mean that anything has changed.
The threat of infection and illness to our volunteers, staff and clients is very real. Last week, we had several "near misses." 

The self-assessment form is more than a piece of paper or hoop to jump through each week. It is an opportunity to look at your behaviors and be honest with yourself and with us about any potential contact points. Don’t worry about leaving a hole in the schedule. That is a small inconvenience compared to shutting down service. We're not going to judge anyone. We simply need to know.

Don’t assume that anyone is safe or immune from contracting the virus. Call and we can talk through any situation you might not be completely sure about. 
" Caution fatigue " is a term I recently came across that seems to describe our current behavior quite well. Jacqueline Gollan, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, explained the term by likening it to a battery. "When lockdowns were first announced, many people were charged with energy and desire to flatten the curve. Now, the prolonged cocktail of stress, anxiety, isolation and disrupted routines has left many people feeling drained. As motivation dips, people are growing more lax about social-distancing guidelines and potentially putting themselves and others in harm’s way." Although she was quoted back in April, Professor Gollan's observations seem on-point for what we're experiencing in July.

Lauren is seeing caution fatigue play out among volunteers, with some describing feelings of exhaustion, hopelessness and being overwhelmed at the prospect of many more months of social isolation. As she regularly reminds folks, "this won't last forever and so far, Kitchen Angels volunteers and staff have done remarkably well. We're truly proud of our volunteers for keeping the lines of communication open." The fatigue she sees shows up as volunteers realizing they've been in close unmasked physical proximity to others who tested positive for COVID-19, attending dinner parties where guests are seated close to each other, or traveling by air. Some instances are conscious choices. Others are probably not. How each volunteer handles these situations is, to some extent, related to their degree of caution fatigue.
To help address caution fatigue, Professor Gollan suggests a few things:
  • Take care of your physical and mental health - Get enough sleep, follow a balanced diet, exercise regularly, don’t drink too much, stay socially connected and find ways to relieve stress.
  • Reframe risks and benefits - Goals like flattening the curve and improving public health can be hard to stay fired up about since they’re somewhat abstract. Think about how your behavior directly affects your chances of getting sick, and thus your chances of spreading the virus to people around you.
  • Rebuild your routine - Coronavirus has probably shattered your regular daily routine. Creating a new normal, to the extent possible, can be stabilizing.
  • Make altruism a habit - It may help to remember that social-distancing is really about the common good. In keeping yourself safe, you’re also improving public health and quite possibly saving lives.
  • Switch up your media diet - It's easy to become desensitized to the warnings about the coronavirus. Even something as simple as checking a credible news source you don’t usually follow, or catching up on headlines from elsewhere can help reset your brain.

Soldiers have their own terminology for how to get through difficult situations. "Embrace the suck" is m ilitary slang meaning "to consciously accept or appreciate something that is extremely  unpleasan t  but unavoidable for forward progress. " In dispute resolution, mediators talk about "stepping into the conflict." Both reflect an acceptance of our circumstances so that we can choose a response that helps create as positive an outcome as possible. Acceptance doesn't mean giving up. It does mean acknowledging our reality and behaving thoughtfully and purposefully.

Many of us are tired. Many of us are frightened. And many of us are grieving what feels like the loss of a world we thought we knew. All of these feelings are understandable and legitimate and they'll probably ebb and flow for as long as the pandemic continues. They certainly have for me since it started.

Still, it's important that we remember we'll get through this. It's also important that we support our friends, family members, colleagues and each other to behave as if our lives depended on each other's choices. They do. The sooner everyone in our community behaves with the same care that Kitchen Angels volunteers and staff do for each other and our clients, the sooner our world will find its new equilibrium and the sooner we can move forward with our lives. It's really that simple.

To each of you and the entire Kitchen Angels family, thank you.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe, healthy and informed.
If you want to return to volunteering . . .

. . . please first ask yourself if you are willing to adhere to our required risk-mitigating protocols throughout all parts of your day, and not just while at Kitchen Angels.

In particular: 
  1. Am I able to work a full shift wearing a face mask?
  2. Can I hear well enough from six-feet away if the other person is speaking through a face mask?
  3. Am I willing to work a different shift than the one I previously worked?
  4. Can I commit to showing up to my shift on-time and without canceling at the last minute?
  5. Can I adapt to a new environment and new routine?
  6. Can I reliably communicate with the Volunteer Coordinator?
  7. Do I feel safe being back in the public sphere?

If you answer "NO" to any of these questions, you're not ready to return. If you're not sure, check with Lauren.