Vaccines are the hot topic right now, as they should be. I believe effective vaccines will go a long way toward helping control spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Does that mean over the next few months, we’ll all get the vaccine and then life will return to normal? That question requires a two-part answer.

The first answer is yes. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota (BCBSND) is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice and recommending North Dakotans get the vaccine as it becomes available. The second answer—about life getting back to normal—is more complex because the pandemic story doesn’t end with a vaccine.

While all eyes seem focused on the virus itself, I’m looking ahead to some of the pandemic’s residual health effects that stem from deferring preventive care and from being subjected to stress and social isolation.

Preventive care and personal well-being are more important than ever

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Many North Dakota health care facilities are at or near capacity, but not solely with COVID-19 cases. Providers are seeing a surge of emergent care for those who have put off things like preventive health screenings and chronic disease management.

According to health care researcher Advisory Board, as of June 30, 2020, 41% of U.S. adults delayed or avoided medical care because of COVID-19 concerns. While I understand people’s hesitancy to visit medical facilities during a pandemic, history demonstrates that postponing or suspending routine care will likely lead to a long-tail disease burden for the state.

Through May 2020, there were 89% fewer breast cancer screenings and 85% fewer colorectal cancer screenings compared to the year before. Well child visits also lagged. Those declines have consequences. It’s much more effective to monitor and treat someone with diabetes than to put that person on dialysis. Likewise, it’s much easier to do a colonoscopy than to treat colon cancer.

Prioritizing preventive care is something we can all do, despite the pandemic.

Stress and isolation are health risks, too

Along with prevention, mental health is also paramount. Stress and isolation related to the pandemic is taking its toll on people’s physical and mental health.

Across the country, social isolation has been linked to a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Additionally, 53% of Americans reported their mental health has been negatively impacted by stress and worry over the virus.

It does us little good to avoid or survive COVID-19 only to suffer from preventable diseases and mental health issues. As a practicing physician, my prescription for North Dakota is to schedule preventive screenings and wellness exams for you and your family. Reach out to a friend, family member or your primary care provider if you’re feeling anxiety or overwhelm. Practice self-care, now more than ever.

This pandemic is something we’ll never forget, but we shouldn’t have to live with lingering physical and mental health impacts that could be avoided. Let’s make it a point as North Dakotans to take care of one another now, for a healthier tomorrow.

Glasner resides in Fargo.