Between September and January, Dr. Eyal Kendar worked 12 hour days, seven days a week as one of the members of the Covid response team at the St. Lawrence Health System in Canton, New York.
Now, as the number of Covid cases falls and the number of vaccinated people increases, he said he’s back to his usual 60 hours a week, with only a little trepidation about what’s to come.
“I have a sense of guarded relief,” he said. “We have still had flurries of activity in our county and I worry, as do many people I know who worked with Covid, that there will be a variant that will evade the vaccines if we don’t get more people vaccinated. There’s a sense of relief, but also a sense of fear.”
But still, there’s a sense of guarded optimism, and a growing response to the health issues facing his patients in a post-Covid world. From post-Covid symptoms to worsening of prior health issues to mental health issues, Kedar said things are far from back to normal.
St. Lawrence County, with a population of a little over 110,000 people, saw 7,456 cases of Covid-19. Of those, 96 resulted in death. Currently, there are 99 positive cases in the county, four of which require hospitalization. On May 26, the county reported only four new cases.
Read Eyal Kedar's Column: Primary-Care Physicians Should Be at the Heart of Vaccination Program
Even though many patients have recovered, some are still being affected by the illness.
“We’re seeing a lot of Covid-related symptoms in patients,” he said. “The pandemic is still alive in the post-Covid syndrome.”
Other patients he’s seeing were ones with acute conditions prior to the pandemic that have worsened.
“We’re seeing a lot of patients with conditions that were under-managed during the pandemic,” he said. “We’re having to meet a lot of needs for patients that may have gone unmet during the height of the pandemic. We’re working now to get those conditions back under control.”
Now that things are somewhat slower, however, he’s beginning to feel the toll the pandemic has taken on him.
“I actually do feel some burnout,” he said. “It’s gotten worse since the end of the pandemic. It’s more fatigue of working so many months without a day off. It’s not something you feel until things begin to slow down.”
Mental health challenges face all front line workers, he said. While he said he hadn’t checked in with his colleagues to see how they are handling the aftermath of the pandemic, he said he expects that health care workers will suffer some mental health effects as a result of the pandemic.
“I think you will see a lot of that especially among front-line workers,” he said. “I don’t see how you can’t have some degree of lasting effect after so much death and lasting illness in such a short-time period.”
Still, the spotlight the pandemic has put on rural health systems may bring about some change, he said.
“We have to use the pandemic as a source of impetus to help us build a rural health system,” he said. “The Biden administration is showing signs of paying attention to rural. And the White House is starting to pay attention. I would like to see more, but we’re on the right path.”
For now, Kedar said, he’s “tired, but inspired,” and looking forward to taking some time off with family this summer for vacation.