Holidays during COVID: Here’s How to Celebrate Safely

Broken ornament on a blue background representing COVID disrupting Christmas and holiday traditions.

With the promise of vaccines just around the corner, it finally feels like we’re in the home stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic. And it’s so tempting to put thoughts of the virus aside as the holidays approach. After all we’ve been through this year, haven’t we earned a celebration?

Yes. But. We aren’t out of the woods yet. And experts predict that the choices Americans make this holiday season will determine how much higher those death tolls rise before a vaccine becomes widely available.

So with that in mind, we have a few tips on how to celebrate safely in 2020.

Tip 1: Celebrate in person only with members of your own household

We know. This tip is not what anyone wants to hear. But this is what the CDC recommends, and we have to agree: with COVID cases spiking across the country, the only safe way for Americans to celebrate the holidays this year is with members of our own households.

This is because even if you and your would-be dinner guests are young, healthy, and have a relatively low risk of getting seriously ill from COVID, your community is full of people who are not —and those folks often don’t have a choice to completely isolate or avoid exposure. As of November 19, we have reached the devastating landmark of a million new COVID cases every week and nearly 2,000 Americans dying in a single day. Evidence suggests that young, asymptomatic carriers are behind this fall’s dramatic increase in community spread.

We are still in the midst of a national pandemic, with case numbers soaring higher than ever before. Remember back in March, when we cheered for healthcare workers every night and sewed homemade masks for local hospitals?

We need to summon that spirit again. During this season of giving, we all need to do our part to keep our vulnerable neighbors safe. Stay home when you can, even on holidays, and wear a mask when you can’t.

Tip 2: ‘Tis the season to get creative

Depressing news aside, there are still ways to make memories and celebrate holidays with your extended family and friends.

First, since we now know that COVID is much more likely to spread through the air than via surfaces, you can feel comfortable sending holiday cards, gifts, even homemade baked goods throughout the season. (No more need to worry about microwaving the mail, in other words.)

Think of how to move your beloved traditions online, like virtual holiday movie screenings, cookie baking sessions, recipe swaps, crafting parties, or happy hours. And spend a little extra time planning and scheduling these activities in advance—the anticipation is half the fun, and having something fun to look forward to could mean a lot to loved ones living alone.

You can even plan a Friendsgiving feast, 2020 style: coordinate with “guests” to prepare side dishes, exchange them at a distance, and return home to dine over video hangout.

No, it’s not the same—but it’s safe.

Tip 3: Don’t rely on COVID testing to feel safe

We’re concerned to see reports of COVID testing skyrocketing over the last week—partly due to increased community spread of the virus, but partly due to holiday-related demand for tests.

The truth is simple. You cannot rely on a negative COVID test to keep your loved ones safe.

Tests capture a snapshot of how much coronavirus is present in your body at the moment in time you took the test. The incubation period for COVID ranges from two days to two weeks—meaning you could be exposed one day, test negative the next, and develop symptoms a few days later.

“People need to recognize that a test today only proves you’re OK today. It says nothing about whether you might be incubating, or exposed, and won’t turn positive tomorrow or the next day,” according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe.

Let’s say you were tested on the morning of December 19, six days before Christmas, and your test is negative. If you were exposed to COVID on December 18, your test is meaningless—the virus takes at least 48 hours to incubate in your body.

If you were exposed to COVID on December 14, your December 19 test results still could be inaccurate—you may not have enough of the virus in your body to register a positive test, but by Christmas Day, you could be invisibly yet highly contagious with zero symptoms. In this scenario, you could isolate for twelve days, drive a few hours with no stops, and still infect your family.

And of course, you could get exposed to the virus anytime after your test, including on your airplane or car ride to Grandma’s house.

We’ll say it one more time: A negative COVID test is not proof you and your loved ones are safe.

We know this post is a big bummer. But it’s not nearly as depressing as unintentionally spreading COVID to someone you love—or a stranger you’ll never know. Do your part, stay home, and help everyone have a happy holiday!

Along with mashed potatoes, egg nog, and pie, the holidays serve up a helping of health hazards. If you experience a holiday mishap this Thanksgiving, we’re here. 

What Is SAD, and What Can I Do about It?

Clouds raining against a blue background, symboling SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD isn’t just an on-the-nose nickname. It stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and it’s a type of depression that comes and goes with the changing seasons—most often in the winter and fall. 

This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic and a turbulent election causing higher stress levels and feelings of isolation, people with SAD could experience more intense symptoms than usual. So let’s dive into what SAD is and what you—or your loved ones—can do about it.

What is SAD?

As the days get shorter and darker, people vulnerable to SAD may experience common symptoms of depression like feeling low-energy, losing interest in once-beloved activities, or having trouble concentrating. SAD also brings along a few of its characteristic symptoms, such as oversleeping (called hypersomnia), increased cravings for sugary and starchy carbs, and social withdrawal. 

If that sounds a lot like hibernation—or just daily life in the year 2020—you’re not wrong! But for those who suffer from clinical seasonal affective disorder, the complications can be serious. SAD can interfere with your work and social life, and in severe cases, even lead to thoughts of death and suicide.

Mental health professionals follow specific guidelines for diagnosing SAD, including the severity of symptoms and seasonal recurrence for at least two consecutive years. They estimate about one in 20 American adults suffer from SAD, with millions more experiencing some lesser form of the “winter blues”. 

SAD is more common in women than men, usually begins in young adulthood, and is more frequent among people who live in northern regions of the country—especially those who relocated from sunnier climates. 

What causes SAD?

Sunlight, neurochemicals, and circadian rhythms all play a part in whether an individual experiences SAD—and similar to other types of depression, genetic predispositions. Understanding what causes this syndrome will help you understand how to best treat it. 

Sunlight, serotonin, and melatonin

While we don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms behind SAD, we do know sunshine is key. We also know sunlight plays a role in how your skin produces vitamin D. Research suggests that vitamin D may impact how your brain produces two important chemicals: serotonin and melatonin. 

Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter—a kind of “chemical messenger” that sends information and instructions throughout your brain and body and helps regulate your mood. If you experience SAD, that regulation doesn’t function properly during the winter months when you get less sunlight and less vitamin D, leading to lower levels of serotonin production. 

Melatonin is a hormone that helps keep your sleeping cycle on track. When you produce too much melatonin, you feel sleepy and low-energy, even if you’ve got a solid eight hours of slumber. And you guessed it—research suggests that people with SAD produce too much melatonin. 

To sum this all up: SAD and sunlight go hand-in-hand. You absorb sunlight through your skin, helping you produce vitamin D and serotonin and regulating your production of melatonin. When days get short, and we stay inside, you don’t get as much sunlight. For people vulnerable to SAD, that can lead to depressive symptoms. 

Circadian rhythms

The frustrating thing about SAD is that when you’re suffering from the disorder, all you want to do is hide under the covers all day. But this behavior is precisely what makes the cycle worse, because you’re further disrupting your natural circadian rhythms. 

“Circadian” simply means “about a day” in Latin—it’s how your body follows a 24-hour cycle of waking, eating, and sleeping. Anyone who’s flown to a faraway time zone knows exactly what it feels like when jet lag disrupts your circadian rhythms. Your body needs time to catch up to the new light-and-dark patterns, so you’re wide awake at 2 a.m. and falling asleep during your afternoon museum tour. 

In the case of SAD, when the days are short, you don’t get much sunlight, and your brain isn’t producing enough serotonin or too much melatonin, your circadian rhythms will be affected. 

Fortunately, your circadian rhythms can be influenced by your environment so that you can counteract some of this less-than-ideal neuroscience with intentional behavior changes. (More on that in a minute.)

What you can do about SAD

If you suspect you’re experiencing the symptoms of SAD, the happy news is that there are several treatment options available: light therapy, talk therapy, medication, and a whole range of coping behaviors.  

Light therapy 

We can’t all move to San Diego, but we can simulate sunlight through a device called a lightbox, in a practice known as light therapy or phototherapy. 

good lightbox will give off at least 10,000 lux, about 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor lights. Lightboxes have plastic screens that filter out harmful UV rays, unlike tanning beds, and you can easily purchase them online. 

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, who coined the term “SAD” in his 1984 study, recommends sitting near a good-sized lightbox (one foot by one-and-a-half feet) for about 20-30 minutes every morning, ideally placed with the light shining down on you from above—just like natural sunlight. 

Lightboxes may not work for everyone, but when they’re effective, they tend to work quickly. Research shows that most people start to feel a difference between just a few days and two weeks. 

If you have a history of eye sensitivity, diabetes, or bipolar disorder, consult with a doctor before using a lightbox to avoid potential side effects.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Good old-fashioned “talk therapy”, also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, is another effective treatment for SAD. There’s even a specific adaptation, CBT-SAD, that focuses on reframing negative thoughts and managing the day-to-day realities of living with SAD. 

During this time of COVID-19, virtual therapy visits or group sessions may be a good choice. 

While ZOOM+Care doesn’t offer long-term talk therapy, we can help you get started on your journey. Our mental health specialists can give excellent guidance, support you with medication management, and provide counseling referrals if needed. Talk to a ZOOM+Care Mental Health specialist today!

Medication and supplements

In some cases, antidepressant medications that increase serotonin levels, called SSRIs, can be used to treat SAD—although they can cause side effects, and it could take weeks before you start to notice a difference in your mood. 

A ZOOM+Care specialist can help you determine if treating SAD through medication is the right path forward. 

Coping with SAD

In addition to therapies or medications, you can also impact the severity of SAD symptoms through your own behavior—meaningful but simple changes you can make to your routine to help regulate your mood and internal clock. 

Let there be light

Get as much sunlight as possible, especially in the mornings. Even on a cloudy day, taking a 15 to 30-minute walk outside can make a big difference. Other ways to increase your light exposure: move your desk or favorite chair close to a window, open your blinds, trim away sun-blocking branches or bushes outside, and clean your panes. 

Sunlight is key to SAD, and every little bit helps. 

Move your body

Note that we didn’t say “exercise”, which can be intimidating. Your goal isn’t to look like the next Marvel action star. You just need to move your body enough to help you feel awake and stimulate endorphins, the so-called “feel-good” chemicals your brain produces when you exercise. Research shows that even low-impact movements like stretching, walking, and gentle yoga can help reduce depression—as long as you do it consistently. (For bonus benefits, use a lightbox during indoor exercise!)

Pay a visit to Mother Nature 

Don’t feel like working up a sweat? You’re in luck. It turns out there’s a less strenuous way to combat SAD—forest bathing. 

Before you pack your swimsuit, we should specify that forest bathing isn’t an actual bath. Rather, it’s the act of spending time outdoors, slowing down, and becoming immersed in the natural environment. According to a recent study, the benefits of forest bathing include relaxation, less stress, and decreased depression, anxiety, and anger. 

Keep a sleep routine

Staying up late or sleeping in on the weekends can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms, so as much as possible, stick to a consistent bedtime and wake-up time through the winter months. Nightly rituals like a cup of herbal tea before bed or a sunrise-simulating alarm clock can help. 

Fuel your brain through food

Since your goal this winter is to produce more serotonin and vitamin D, eat meals and snacks that will help—research suggests more whole grains, healthy fats, fish, veggies, and fruits, paired with less sugar and processed carbs.

Curb your carb cravings

If you’re dealing with SAD, though, you’ll likely crave sweet and starchy foods—ones that will only cause your blood sugar to spike and crash, making your energy levels more unstable. 

Manage your cravings by savoring treats during outings or special occasions, like a long walk to your neighborhood coffee shop for a holiday latte, or meeting a friend for a social-distanced hot cocoa. Keep your kitchen stocked with healthy foods to lower your chance of carb-heavy binges on bad days. 

Eat at consistent times

When it comes to circadian rhythms, it’s not just what you eat, but when you eat, that matters. If you can, eat breakfast at a consistent time every day, and stop eating a few hours before your bedtime. These signals (or lack thereof) will help your body know when it’s time to wake up and time to go to sleep. 

Reduce stressors

You can’t always control how you feel, but you can avoid triggers that you know make you feel worse. During this tumultuous year, that might mean limiting your news consumption to 30 minutes a day, banning your phone from your bedroom, or deleting addictive social media apps altogether. 

Ask for social support 

Socializing is not going to come naturally this winter, but like all types of depression, having support from loved ones will help make it easier to cope with SAD. 

On a good day, tell trusted family members or friends that you’re dealing with SAD, and ask them to check in with you when you go quiet. Find an accountability buddy to help stick to your movement goals. Schedule those awkward virtual hangouts in advance. (You’ll cancel sometimes, and that’s okay.)

Bottom line: be kind to yourself, and take it a day at a time. 

SAD is not the only mental health stressor we’re facing this winter. With COVID-19 in our midst, we’re facing intense holiday blues—financial strain, missing our friends, no family feasts or Macy’s Day parade. While it’s okay to feel sad, anxious, and angry about these losses, it’s important to recognize when your seasonal blues become serious. If you need a professional’s help, we’re here to listen, all year ’round. Talk to a Mental Health specialist today, either virtual or IRL. 

Flu, Cold or COVID? A Simple Guide to Symptoms

Woman holding a tissue against a blue background, wondering she she has the flu, a cold, or COVID.

Dealing with the sniffles or lingering cough is annoying at the best of times. During a global pandemic, brought on by a respiratory illness with flu-like symptoms? Downright stressful. 

And the tricky thing about identifying COVID-19 is that it presents a really wide range of symptoms. Some cases involve no symptoms whatsoever, mild cases may only mean a cough or runny nose, moderate cases can feel a lot like the flu, and severe cases can require hospitalization. Usually, you’ll need to take a test to know for sure if you’ve been infected.

While it’s important to take any possibility of COVID-19 seriously to avoid spreading the virus, we don’t want you to panic. If you (or a loved one) are feeling unwell, the best approach—as always—is to take a calming breath and start with the science. 

In this post, we’ll go over the usual symptoms, timing, and recommended next steps for the three likely culprits: the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19. 

The symptom unique to COVID-19

Let’s get this one out of the way. The CDC reports that there’s really only one symptom that’s mostly specific to COVID-19, compared to the common cold and flu: losing your sense of smell or taste

“There are many symptoms of a ‘common cold,’ flu and COVID-19 that overlap, including fever, sneezing, cough and fatigue,” epidemiologist Dr. Sadiya Khan recently told Northwestern University. “One symptom that seems to be unique to COVID-19 is a loss of sense of smell or taste. However, none of these symptoms are perfect to diagnose the cause of ‘cold-like’ symptoms, and the only way to know for sure is to get tested.”

If you can’t detect strong aromas like coffee or garlic, and you’re experiencing a fever and/or a persistent cough, stay home, isolate yourself, and set up a video visit at to get safe and easy testing. 

Shared symptoms for the flu and COVID-19

While COVID-19 is difficult to identify from symptoms alone, it’s usually easier to tell a cold from the flu, because colds don’t tend to involve severe body aches or fever. If you’re running a fever or feeling that familiar “I got hit by a truck” fatigue, it’s likely the flu or COVID-19. (Sorry.) 

That said, the following symptoms are common for all three viruses:

  • Cough (usually milder with the cold, usually deep or dry with COVID-19)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat (more common in the cold than the flu or COVID)
  • Runny or stuffy nose (more common with the cold, rarely the only symptom for the flu)

Symptoms that often or sometimes appear in both COVID-19 and the flu, but rarely with a cold, include:

  • Fever (or feeling feverish, like the chills)
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Muscle pain or body aches
  • Headache 
  • Vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea (more common in children than adults, and more common with the flu than COVID-19)

Note that many mild cases of COVID-19 only involve a runny nose or congestion—no fever ever appears. So don’t assume you just have a cold if a sniffle or stuffy nose is your only symptom. You could still be infected with COVID-19, and run the risk of getting others seriously ill.

Common symptoms of the common cold

The good news: sneezing, watery eyes, and post-nasal drip are usually symptoms of a cold or allergies. Sometimes, they’ll appear with the flu. They’re even less common with COVID-19, but not impossible, because COVID can display a wide range of symptoms and we’re still learning about this new virus.

Timing of symptoms 

Don’t just pay attention to what symptoms you experience—notice when you start to feel unwell, how quickly they appear after possible exposure, and how long they last.

  • Cold symptoms usually show up within 2 to 3 days of infection, and they tend to appear gradually. 
  • Flu symptoms usually begin about 1 to 4 days after you’ve been infected by the virus, and tend to show up suddenly.
  • COVID-19 symptoms, if they appear at all, typically show up 5 to 7 days after exposure—but can begin as early as 2 days or as late as 14. 

Symptoms for all three viruses can last for a few weeks, but cold and flu symptoms usually get better over time. If your symptoms continue to worsen after a week, go to to schedule a remote COVID-19 screening. 

What to do if you show symptoms of COVID-19

If you show any of the above symptoms of COVID-19, you should schedule a COVID screening  right away. If you know you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 by being in close contact (defined as 15 minutes or more within a 24-hour period) with someone who tests positive, even if you have zero symptoms, you should isolate yourself and call your doctor. 

Red flags for COVID-19

We’ve focused mostly on common and mild symptoms, but if you or a loved one experiences any of the following, seek emergency medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing or gasping for air
  • Blue or purple lips or face
  • Persistent chest pain or pressure 
  • New confusion
  • Inability to stay awake or conscious 

Bottom line: play it safe, but don’t panic

We know for sure that COVID-19 is very contagious and we don’t yet have a vaccine. Testing can help you know for sure if you have the virus, but false negatives are frequent, so play it safe. If you show any symptoms, wear a mask at all times, avoid unnecessary contact with others (even in your household), wash your hands frequently, and call your doctor to discuss your specific symptoms and circumstances. 

Finally, don’t panic. Your sniffles are statistically unlikely to land you in the hospital, but heightened stress levels can take a toll. That’s why we’re here to help you deal with COVID-19 concerns of all kinds, whenever you need us.

Have Questions about Wildfire Smoke? Alicja Gonzales, PA-C, Has Answers.

ZOOM+Care provider offers tips on dealing with wildfire smoke.
Alicja Gonzales is PA-C at ZOOM+Care.

Maybe you don’t need us to tell you this, but: there’s a lot going in the world right now.

While our country grapples with COVID-19, the Pacific Coast is on fire, its residents cocooned in a thick blanket of smoke under an eerie red sky. Air Quality Index numbers are—quite literally—off the charts in both rural and major cities across the west. 

With smoke levels at hazardous levels, you’re bound to have questions about how air quality affects your health. To answer your q’s, give you some peace of mind, and get tips on reducing exposure risk, we sat down with ZOOM+Care provider Alicja Gonzales.

Hi Alijica! First of all, what are the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure? 

Symptom severity can vary, but common symptoms include a scratchy throat, nasal and eye irritation, fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and chest pain. 

Who is most likely to experience health effects from wildfire smoke exposure? Who is THE most vulnerable?

Individuals with preexisting lung and heart conditions, the elderly, and pregnant women are at higher risk for complications. Children are also at a higher risk because they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. 

Finally, the longer you are exposed to pollutants from smoke, the higher your risk of developing smoke-related illnesses.

What can I do to protect myself from the smoke?  

Avoid outdoor exposure as much as possible. Exercise indoors when possible. Keep all doors and windows closed, and consider applying weather sealing if you detect smoke leaking in. 

Do not add to indoor air pollution. Avoid lighting candles, smoking, vacuuming, and using your fireplace.

 As a last resort, consider seeking shelter elsewhere—especially if you are at high risk for complications. 

Are there any effective home remedies to cleanse the air? We’ve heard a lot of talk about boiling herbs, wet towels and bandanas, etc. 

The above remedies are unlikely to improve actual air quality, but they may temporarily alleviate minor smoke exposure symptoms. 

To improve the air quality in your home, try these tips:

  1. Change home air filters to high-efficiency ones. 
  2. Use a portable air cleaner/purifier.
  3. Again, do not add to indoor air pollution. Your house might feel stuff from being shut up, but avoid lighting candles or using scented air fresheners. They do nothing to improve air quality, and can actually make it worse.

How can I tell if wildfire smoke is affecting my family or me? 

If you’re told to stay indoors, do so! Stay informed and monitor air quality indexes closely in your area. Know the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure, and seek care if you’re concerned. 

If I’m experiencing side effects from wildfire smoke, when do I need to see a doctor?  

Minor symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, throat, nasal and eye irritation should gradually resolve as air quality improves.

If you have severe chest pain symptoms, shortness of breath, cough, rapid heart rate, or dizziness, you should immediately call 911 or the nearest emergency facility.

If you’re feeling off, or just worried, there is no harm in consulting your healthcare provider. Often, evaluation and medical guidance can bring much-needed reassurance. 

Should I be worried about long-term effects from wildfire smoke?  

It’s natural to feel worried, but the wildfires in our region will only temporarily affect the air quality. Long-term physical effects are unlikely.

Many of us feel really anxious right now. Is this normal?

Feeling anxious is a normal human reaction. Even in stressful situations, it’s important to try to find the positive in any situation. Consider turning anxious energy into ways to connect and help others in your community who are likely to be feeling the same way. 

Like Alicja said, it’s normal to off right now. Whether you need help coping with anxiety or processing what’s happening in the world right now, our Mental Health Specialists are here to help.

#TogetherWeZoom: Get to know Clinic Associate Janee Meengs.

Janee Meengs is a Clinic Associate at our ZOOM+Super clinic.

ZOOM+Care is filled with whip-smart individuals, willing to roll up their sleeves, dive in, and get their hands dirty to change the future of healthcare. #TogetherWeZoom is our monthly employee spotlight, designed to celebrate these individuals.

For this month’s #TogetherWeZoom, we caught up with Janee Meengs—a Clinic Associate at our ZOOM+Super clinic.

For those who don’t know, ZOOM+Super is our alternative to the Emergency Room. Staffed with board-certified emergency doctors, Super offers more treatment options than urgent care—but it costs less time and money than an ER.

Read on to learn more about the work Janee does at ZOOM+Super, what she loves most about her job, and her advice for prospective candidates.

Hi Janee! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. What inspires you most about your work?

Our patients really inspire my work. It’s inspiring to have a positive effect on someone who isn’t feeling well and being able to turn their day around by simply supporting them and providing excellent care. It makes me strive to be better and do better, knowing that we brought light to them during a tough time.

What advice do you have for prospective ZOOM+Care candidates?

The advice I would give to prospective candidates to ZOOM+Care is to be adaptable and ready to embrace change. The advice I’d give to potential Super candidates is to come ready to learn and open to constructive criticism. I believe that change, adaptation, and embracing constructive criticism are things that we all will encounter in life. Learning them early in a professional setting can enable us to further our careers and professional relationships.

What three words best describe you?

Three words that describe me are quirky, observant, and dedicated. 

What do you like to do on your days off?

On my days off I like to read, sunbathe, and watch Netflix. (Kingdom is my current favorite).

What sets ZOOM+Super apart from a standard ER visit?

Cost, speed, and efficiency set Super apart from the standard ER visit. 

I think those are also the reasons that patients continue to seek care at Super for emergencies.

What would you say are the most common reasons people come into Super?

We commonly see chest and abdominal pain patients, concussions and lots of breaks and sprains!

What do you hear from patients about their experience with Super?

The number one comment I get from patients is about our efficiency, how streamlined our workflow is, and how we are all positive and genuinely care about them—and helping them get better!

What is your favorite feature or service offering that Super provides and why?

My favorite service that Super offers is our lab. Working in the lab has inspired me personally to pursue a career in pathology. Being able to see the biological markers of disease and relating them to specific symptoms or diagnoses is truly incredible. I also love that this service takes approximately 30 minutes, max! Meaning, Sarah can have answers/reasons for their ailment or peace of mind much more quickly than a standard Emergency Room or through their Primary Care Provider.

Do you enjoy helping others on their journey to better health? Are you looking for an entryway into the exciting field of healthcare? We’re currently hiring for Clinic Associates! 

Hey Zoom: How Do I Stay Safe While Exercising My Right to Protest?

Black Lives Matter protest outside ZOOM+Care

Hey Zoom, 

I want to show my support for the Black Lives Matter movement by marching, but I’m worried about COVID-19. Do you have any advice for protesting safely during a pandemic?

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Erik Vanderlip, weighs in with some advice:

That’s an excellent question.

Staying safe and supporting our Black and African American communities are not mutually exclusive endeavors. Police brutality and racism are lethal public health issues that both predate and contribute to COVID-19. Embracing the struggle for racial justice should engender safer, healthier communities for all of us.

The challenge is that, yes—right now, we are in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic. We are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases within the communities we serve. As we show our support to Black Lives Matter, we can’t sweep the threat of COVID-19 under the rug. In reality, ignoring safety concerns threatens African Americans as much, if not more, as communities of color are more likely to bear the brunt of our shared disregard for public health and safety. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that racial and ethnic minority groups experience disproportionate risk of illness and death from COVID-19.

There are several things you can do to protect yourself and others if you’ve chosen to show solidarity by protesting or marching. Firstly, don’t go if you’re having symptoms! There is a very real risk of asymptomatic transmission, but the presence of COVID-19 symptoms likely means you’re more infectious. So, if you’re having symptoms, stay home, take care of yourself, and limit others’ risk. As a reminder, the symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, nausea, loose stools, generalized aches and pains, and the recent loss of taste or smell. 

Secondly, wear a mask in public. Prioritize large-scale outdoor gatherings over indoor gatherings, as the risk of transmission is lower in open-air environments.  

Health experts are urging protesters not to sing and shout to reduce the threat of person-to-person transmission. However, I understand how some of these tips can be difficult to follow. If you’re angry and frustrated, you want to express that feeling—and loudly! Because shouting especially raises the risk of transmission, consider ways to either magnify your voice with noise makers or instruments. These can help amplify your message while reducing shouting and vocalizing.  

Finally, don’t forget to wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Bring along a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol-and-gel based. Use it frequently, and avoid touching your face. Masking should also help deter face-touching. Consider using the restroom before going out in public to minimize group bathroom breaks. Avoid sharing drinks, cups, vape pens, pieces of pizza, and water bottles. If you want to wear gloves, go for it—but you may have to change them frequently. Gloves keep the virus from getting on your hands, so if you’re touching your face with your gloves, there’s not much point to wearing them! And remember, gloves are no substitution for proper hand hygiene. You still need to wash your hands after you take the gloves off. 

There are other safety concerns to keep in mind while that aren’t related to COVID-19. We’ve seen many protest-related injuries in our clinics, including sprains, strains from long walks, and burns. When attending a protest or march, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves, pants, and comfortable shoes. Wear things you feel comfortable in that cover, but aren’t too restrictive, in case you come into contact with some hazardous materials.

If you don’t feel safe attending protests or marching, remember that there are many ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Meaningful action can take the form of more than marching or protesting. It can mean individual volunteering. It can mean writing a letter to your local representative, signing petitions, joining a task force, donating money, time, expertise, or other resources to groups also fighting for Black Lives Matter.

The best gift you can give a cause is your attention and time. We all have a part to play in the fight for racial justice. While our roles might look a little different, it doesn’t make them any less important. 

Remember what you’re at the protest for. Both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter are marathons rather than sprints—don’t sacrifice both by burning yourself out. We’re going to need everyone’s efforts in the coming months and years to see our communities achieve the health and safety they deserve.

Have a question for one of our providers? Write us at

#TogetherWeZoom: Join Us in Celebrating Our Frontline Heroes

COVID-19 frontline worker
Jennifer Morris works the front line for ZOOM+Care.

Welcome back to #TogetherWeZoom, a series dedicated to the people who make what we do possible.  As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, we would like to honor ZOOM+Care’s front line. To highlight the important work our providers and clinic associates are doing during the pandemic—and to learn more about the extraordinary challenges they face every day—we’re dedicating this series to them for the time being. (You can check out PART ONE here. )

For this week’s #TogetherWeZoom, we spoke to  Jennifer Morris: a PA-C on our Urgent and Primary Care Team. Read on to learn about her proudest moment on the job since the pandemic hit, how she’s adjusting to the “new normal,” and what she’s going to do when all of this is over. 

Hi Jennifer! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today. So first off, given the moment, how are YOU feeling? 

At the moment, I’m doing well. I’m happy to be employed, healthy, and able to serve our patients. 

Can you tell us What challenges you and the ZOOM+Care are staff face daily?

Some of our greatest challenges come from dealing with change every day. As an organization, we are rapidly adapting by adding new products such as PhoneCare , VideoCare, and expanding ChatCare . Change is difficult for people in the best of times, but our rapid changes require a great deal of fortitude, grace, and patience. Another challenge is managing patient and staff anxiety and fears around illness symptoms, potential exposure to COVID-19, staying well, concerns for the future, and this new “normal”.

What was a typical day for you like before coronavirus? What are your days like now? 

Before the coronavirus outbreak, I saw all of my patients in-person, in the clinic. Currently, I am a VideoCare™ provider, which is an effective and sustainable option for both our patients and me. By using VideoCare visits, we can maintain social distancing protocols and conserve PPE. I’ve found that most things can be diagnosed and treated via VideoCare

Outside of work, before coronavirus, I was seeing friends, going to concerts, entertaining at home, etc. Not so much anymore!

What precautions do frontline workers have to take when clocking off and going home?

We have to think about whether or not it is a good idea to go to the grocery store or get takeout on the way home.

Every outing is a potential exposure point, and we cannot get sick now. Our patients need us to provide care, our colleagues need us to keep people out of the ERs unnecessarily, and our families depend on us. 

Can you describe the mood amongst the ZOOM+Care staff?

 The mood is mixed and varies by the moment, or by the day. There was a great deal of anxiety until we started providing the majority of visits by video, phone, and chat.

Since adding those services, we are more comfortable coming to work as we do not have so many concerns about possible exposure.

How is the staff coping with the potential shortage of PPE? 

We’re doing okay for the time being, but it is worrisome. We simply cannot provide care without adequate PPE. 

What’s your favorite activity or practice to keep the COVID blues at bay? 

I’ve been walking a lot with my (very sweet) dog, catching up on reading, watching movies, working in my yard (tearing out overgrown plants and weeds is a good way to relieve tension), and connecting with friends and family via phone (actual conversations, imagine that!) 

What are you doing to cope with stress and anxiety right now?

Deep breathing and taking it all in stride are my two best strategies. Also, just remembering that we will get through this and come out the other end better and stronger. 

Any advice on how to support medical workers during this time?

Everyone requires different things to feel supported. It seems the universal asks are:

  • Feeling heard through active listening, having a positive and encouraging workplace. (A kind word and acknowledgment of someone’s efforts go a long way.)
  •  Colleagues staying calm in the face of fear and anxiety. 
  • Colleagues stepping up to cover a shift, and/or colleagues taking on extra tasks to lighten someone’s load.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do when all of this is over?

Party! Spend time with my friends and family, go to the movies, and plan a trip.

If you could tell the general public one thing right now, what would it be? 

Please stay home and stay safe, not only for yourself and your family but for the well-being and health of others. If you are sick, do not go out or go to work. (This also applies to when this is over, and for ANY illness).

The pandemic will end, and when it does, you can have a huge party and celebrate with your neighbors, family, and friends. Life will return to normal—just be patient. 

ZOOM+Care is doing a lot to fight COVID-19 in our community. What’s been your proudest moment on the job since the pandemic hit? 

I am so proud of our company’s response to all of this. The staff at ZOOM+Care have stepped up and worked together to support each other, our patients, and the community. The team here have worked miracles to expand ChatCarequickly, and add phone and video visit service lines. We quickly mobilized a COVID-19 testing pilot and have begun testing our high-risk patients. I’ve been amazed at the support and flexibility of our staff. It has been truly inspiring!


#TogetherWeZoom: Get to Know Mallory Bellissimo, PA-C

Nurse Practitioner at ZOOM+Care

From thought leaders to part-time yoga instructors to musicians-on-the-side, we have some incredibly talented (and intensely interesting!) folks working at ZOOM+Care. #TogetherWeZoom is our monthly employee spotlight, designed to celebrate these individuals. Through it, we hope to shine a light on the people behind the scenes, working hard to shape the future of healthcare. 

For this month’s #TogetherWeZoom, we spoke with the magnificent Mallory Bellissimo—a Board-Certified Physician’s Assistant (and secret adrenaline junkie) at our Queen Anne clinic in Seattle.

Mallory is a long-time Zoomer who has been with us for nearly five years. During her time here, she’s become a favorite of both patients and her fellow providers. Don’t just take our word for it, either—according to one of the (many!) positive reviews she’s received, Mallory is “always professional” and makes everyone “feel welcomed, very much listened to, and cared for.”

Read on to learn more about Mallory, what inspires her about her work, and what her favorite day on the job has been:

What inspires you most about your work at ZOOM+Care?

Hands down, the opportunity to impact someone’s health and well-being.  

What is your favorite ZOOM+Care perk or benefit?

I love that Zoom invests in their employees’ lives outside of work. I just booked a hotel reservation in Cabo using our LifeBalance vendor discount, and it was a great deal!   

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

I’ve gone skydiving—and loved it!  

What is your proudest moment at ZOOM+Care?

It’s right now.  I’m proud of the way we care for our patients.  Above all other healthcare organizations I have worked with, ZOOM+Care has always emphasized that the patient comes first—but has found ways to care for the well-being of their clinicians and staff as well.  I’m proud of that.  I’m proud that I work for a company that allows me to feel supported, engaged, and prepared to provide great care.  

What has been your favorite day on the job so far?

I love working Halloween in Queen Anne! SO many adorable kids go trick-or-treating down Queen Anne Ave.  

What have you learned while working here?

I’ve learned a lot! I have been fortunate to work with really great colleagues and SP’s in the 4+ years I’ve been here.  I’ve picked up different things from each of them.

Want a job that makes a difference? We’re always looking for talented, creative, and passionate people to help us fix healthcare. Explore open opportunities. 

#TogetherWeZoom: Get to Know Clinic Associate Kieran Doherty

#TogetherWeZoom is our monthly employee spotlight—a place to celebrate the work employees do inside of Zoom, and the lives they lead outside it. 

For this month’s #TogetherWeZoom, we talked to Kieran Doherty: a Clinic Associate at our East Burnside location. Kieran has been with Zoom for just over a year, and—during his time here—has had an undeniable impact our company. He always goes above and beyond for both patients and fellow co-workers—whether it’s putting in extra work to reorganize a clinic, or lending an empathetic ear to those around him. 

Read on to learn all about Kieran: what his (many!) hobbies are, what he loves most about his job, and what his proudest ZOOM+Care moment was.

What inspires you most about your work?

I think what inspires me most about working in medicine is making a real palpable change in patients’ lives, sometimes right then and there. Being that resource for someone when they are in need the most, is what helps me at the end of a long and arduous day look back and feel fulfilled from the day rather than drained. I love having the privilege of playing a role in helping someone feel better.

What is your favorite ZOOM+Care perk or benefit?

My favorite perk has to be the schedule, getting half the week off to be a normal human being is an absolute dream, especially in a medical job where burnout is far too prevalent. 

What has been your favorite project so far?

My favorite project so far, with the help of my lovely former clinic partner Miranda, was whipping the East Burnside clinic into shape. It was rather neglected since ZA’s were coming and going, but after reorganizing the space and re-doing everything from the ground up (batch cards, labels, lab area), I feel like EB is now back fighting shape and is a functional space for anyone to come in and use.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

 Something most people don’t know about me is I have FAR too many passions that intrinsically motivate me. To name a few, music (both playing and traveling for events), the outdoors, a cooking youtube channel, film, and the list goes on. It got so out of hand my college mentor shortened my name from Kieran just to Ren (short for renaissance man).

What has been your proudest moment on the job?

One of my proudest moments at Zoom thus far has been sitting with a hysterical patient in the lobby, working with her to take deep breaths, and recompose herself so we could work on a 827 form together. I quickly realized it wasn’t the help with the process she needed but rather someone to give her a hug and hear out what was causing her so much distress (an abusive workplace environment). We were able to send her out of the clinic with a smile on her face when it was all said and done.

What have you learned from working at ZOOM+Care? 

I have learned so much from my time here at Zoom that I’ve actually started to keep a journal with info I want to retain from going over cases with providers. But one of the more big-picture takeaways I gleaned from my experiences here is about what really good patient care means and looks like. Some of the best providers I’ve worked with meet the patient wherever they are in life and work up from there together, rather than trying to get the patient up to speed with them. Always working with the patient as if you are co-pilots together, and the destination is their health and wellness, rather than being the captain of the ship.

Do you enjoy helping others on their journey to better health? Are you looking for an entryway into the exciting field of healthcare? We’re currently hiring for Clinic Associates! 

#TogetherWeZoom: Get to Know Software Engineer Stasha Yancho

It might sound clichéd, but our employees truly are the heart and soul of ZOOM+Care. They’re a gritty bunch, comprised of adventurers, pet lovers, foodies,  fashionistas, fantasy football fanatics, and everything in between. Each one has an interesting story— and #TogetherWeZoom is where we tell them.  Welcome to our monthly employee spotlight, designed to celebrate the people behind the scenes, working hard to shape the future of healthcare. 

September’s #TogetherWeZoom is a special Tech Team doubleheader—and we’re back with part two! This time around, we’re getting to know Software Engineer Stasha Yancho. (If you missed part one, don’t sweat it—you can read it here.)

Although she’s a newer member of the team, Stasha brings with her a passion for improving the delivery of healthcare through technology. We sat down with her to learn about her favorite day on the job, what she likes most about working at Zoom—and course, a few fun facts.

1) What inspires you most about your work?

The strongest motivator for me is when I feel that the work I do makes a positive impact for the greater good. ZOOM+Care is on a mission to improve healthcare, and while it’s a lofty goal, they’ve already made massive strides and have the vision to keep making it happen. Healthcare touches so many people’s lives in a very personal way, and it’s inspiring to be able to improve that experience in any way.

2) What is your favorite ZOOM+Care perk or benefit? 

I love all of the health-related perks that ZOOM+Care offers. My favorite would have to be the free clinic visits—it lowers the barrier to accessing quality healthcare, and is proof to me that ZOOM+Care is really invested in the health and well-being of their employees.

3) What has been your favorite project (or day on the job) so far?

I really enjoyed the recent Fiscal Year 2020 kickoff event. It was inspiring to hear about the vision our leadership has for the new ways we’re planning on disrupting the healthcare industry, and I appreciate that the value of communicating our mission and values to all employees is recognized. Being on the tech team, it was also cool to hear that ZOOM+Care considers itself a tech company.

4) What is your proudest moment at ZOOM+Care?

Very soon after starting at ZOOM+Care, I had the opportunity to work on a project for new clinic openings. Seeing how quickly that project came together and was able to start making an impact was really exciting and I was proud of helping bring that to fruition. It was a good sign to me that regardless of your level, you’re able to do important work and have a positive impact on the business right away.

 5) What have you learned while working at ZOOM+Care? 

This is my first role as a software engineer, and I consider myself very fortunate to have found such a supportive team here that’s constantly helping me learn and improve. Our team has a strong focus on quality and doing things the right way, while still encouraging learning and exploration. Having this type of positive culture is instilling good work habits and setting me up for success as I start this new career path.

6) Last question! What’s something most people don’t know about you?

After university, I moved to Moscow for a couple years to teach English, and I’m now fluent in Russian. My cat is also from Russia!

Are you a tech professional interested in bringing innovative technology to healthcare? Our IT & Software Development Teams are hiring!