âFake news is deadly in the time of COVID-19â
National Center for Mental Health head Dr. Roland Cortez.
‘Fake news is deadly in the time of COVID-19’
NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2020 - 12:00am

The seeming invisible war caused by COVID-19 has raised the level of uncertainty among people. Because of the pandemic, almost everybody is keen on embracing the new normal — social distancing, WFH, compulsory wearing of a face mask, quarantine pass, even checkpoints.

The more than two months of lockdown has caused anxiety among people, says Dr. Roland Cortez, head of the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH). “They should guard their mental health with facts about the virus. People should fight COVID-19 with the correct information,” Cortez told The STAR’s Newsmakers in a phone interview.

With the easing of the lockdown and its lifting in time, what should people remember to protect their mental health?

“They should remain well informed,” Cortez said.

While the whole world scrambles to find a vaccine to combat coronavirus, people should be ready to face the new normal “with the right information.” In the advent of fake news in social media, “correct information,” added Cortez, is still key to maintaining stability.

Post-lockdown, social distancing and wearing of face masks need to continue.
Michael Varcas

“Fake news is deadly in the time of COVID-19. Even after the lockdown, we should be vigilant in guarding against fake reporting of COVID cases,” Cortez said.

“For example, don’t report that someone in your neighborhood caught the virus without fact checking it first. Fake news causes panic and jitters. The fear of the unknown will cause a problem in your behavior — also in the behavior of the victim of fake news,” he added, hoping that the government will always give the correct information about the dreaded, deadly disease.

“Uncertain times make us vulnerable to stress and feelings of being helpless. The worst that can happen is that we make a misstep and let our emotions get ahead of the facts and we have to go through this again. Clean information on COVID-19 is vital,” he pointed out.

What are the activities individuals can involve themselves into to ensure a healthy mind and spirit?

“One of the best ways to address stress is often just to talk about it, even over the phone. Stress is often the cause of a range of issues in our lives — whether it is COVID-19 related, or an everyday problem with work, school or with family or friends,” said Cortez.

In an earlier interview with The STAR, Cortez said about 200 individuals call the hotline numbers of the NCMH every day since the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented in Luzon in mid-March.

“The thrust of the NCMH is to foster mental health amidst the pandemic through its preventive, curative and rehabilitative services,” Cortez said of the role of the hospital in the government’s battle with COVID-19.

He revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has recalibrated everything: work, life and play. As work, schooling, socializing and play have moved into the digital and the confines of our homes, several aspects of our daily life should be expected to change.

To transform the mind of the public to face the new normal, the following are Cortez’s recommendations:

1. On food and retail: “E-commerce and online shopping should be improved to keep abreast with the expected consumer change in behavior.”

2. On greeting and physical distancing: “Social distancing and universal mask wearing need to continue. Other forms of greeting such as nodding, waving hands, bumping elbows, tapping feet or gesturing the Namaste hand prayer are introduced as new alternatives.”

3. On health care services: “Since those with pre-existing conditions are vulnerable to the COVID-19, hospitals and clinics are ramping up their digital consultation platforms to attend to patients, especially for follow-up checkups and non-urgent cases.

“Individuals should be more aware of the importance of having a healthy lifestyle and proper hygiene such as eating balanced meals, exercising, handwashing for 20 seconds, and coughing and sneezing into the elbow, tissue or face mask, among others.

“It will be mandatory to sanitize hands and check temperature before boarding public vehicles or entering public places.”

4. On religious gatherings: “Church leaders, priests, pastors and other religious groups hold online Masses and worship services. Some Christian churches post highlights of Sunday preachings in social media as well.

5. On work: “Post-coronavirus, workers will have to get used to working remotely. Managers and employees will have to learn how to run effective virtual meetings and utilize available resources.”

With his recommendations notwithstanding, Cortez knows the government will have the final say for the laws to be institutionalized.

Undeniably, the virus has changed the world. People will still search for the semblance of their “old life” and everybody hopes that in time this search will yield fruition.

“The people really need to adjust and try something new to be able to eliminate the stress and accept the new challenges that COVID-19 has brought upon us. If we stick to the old ways then the same problem will arise,” cautioned Cortez.

Unless a vaccine is discovered, life will never be the same for everyone. What kind of mindset should people always have even after the lockdown?

“Post-lockdown, people should always bear in mind that every person they meet is a positive COVID-19 case. This will always keep them posted that social distancing is a priority and wearing of a mask and other protective gear is a must. This mindset will protect each individual from cross contamination,” Cortez concluded.

(For advice, call the National Center for Mental Health at its 24-hour hotline numbers 0917-899-8727 and 989-8727.)

(E-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and IG @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend!)

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