Do Face Masks Cause CO2 Poisoning? And Other Questions, Answered.

Face masks are an important part of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

As coronavirus cases surge in the U.S., lawmakers and public health officials are urging Americans to wear face masks in public. And despite some confusion early on when officials were advising against mask use, the scientific community has reached a consensus: Covering your mouth and nose in public is a safe and easy way to reduce coronavirus transmission.

So, with the science clear, why do many Americans still refuse to wear a face mask? The answer is, in part, because the issue is steeped in myth and misinformation. For example, some believe that masks limit their oxygen intake and exposes them to harmful levels of CO2.

To address some common concerns about the safety and efficacy of masks, we had a socially distanced sit-down with Dr. Mark Zeitzer, our Medical Director of Acute Care Services. 

Dr. Mark Zeizter, pictured above, is ZOOM+Care’s Medical Director of Acute Care Services. 

Hi Mark! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk masks. First of all: is there any evidence to suggest that wearing a mask could cause CO2 poisoning?

Simply put, no. The use of cloth and paper masks can be uncomfortable or feel foreign. However, it does not cause CO2 intoxication or oxygen deficiency. There is simply no scientific evidence stating that there is any danger of CO2 poisoning created by temporary or prolonged mask use.  

Are masks even capable of catching or keeping unhealthy amounts of CO2 within the mask itself?

No, they aren’t. We’re lucky, because we’re not wearing masks that form a tight seal. Only an airtight face-covering could possibly cause carbon dioxide to build up to dangerous levels. Cloth and paper masks, which allow for a certain amount of breathability, are perfectly safe.

The biggest thing to remember is that masks create a barrier between your germs and other people. They catch things in our expired air, and respiratory droplets that come out of our noses and mouths. This helps decrease the spread of the virus.

Can regular or frequent mask-wearing deplete oxygen levels? 

There is no evidence that mask-wearing decreases oxygen levels or increases CO2 levels. It may feel like it, however, because wearing a mask can be uncomfortable. Most of us aren’t used to having our mouths and noses covered for long periods of time. 

But no, masks do not deplete oxygen levels. If you want to find out for yourself, you can do the simple experiment of putting a pulse oximeter (pulse ox) on your finger and wearing a mask for a few hours. You’ll find there is no correlation between decreased pulse ox levels and wearing a mask. You can even exercise with a mask on, and you will not see reduced pulse-ox levels.

Can regular mask-wearing compromise one’s immune system?

Interestingly, I haven’t heard this angle before. No, wearing a mask does not inhibit the use of our immune systems in any way. If anything, a mask acts as an ally to our immune system, because it protects the wearer from receiving particles from others. 

But really, what masks do best is protect other people. By serving as a barrier, they block what we’re breathing out. When we wear a mask, it decreases droplet and aerosol transmission tremendously, and it’s not inhibiting our immune system from working well. 

Should individuals with asthma or similar other pre-existing respiratory issues approach mask-wearing any differently?

You know, I can only encourage people with asthma to wear masks more frequently. That’s because asthma patients are at an increased risk to COVID-19, since their lungs don’t work as well. They could have broncho-spasm or things like that.  Actually, wearing a mask can help them. Asthma is a form of allergy, and if they’re wearing a mask over their nose and mouth, they will bring in fewer allergens. So, in reality, their asthma will be more well-controlled. 

Can wearing a mask cause or induce anxiety?

Not for someone who doesn’t already have anxiety. 

For those with anxiety, wearing a mask can get to their psyche—they may feel like they can’t breathe as well. It can make some people feel like they’re suffocating.  

This is a very stressful time for all of us, and everyone’s anxiety has increased. However, it can be reassuring to look at the facts. Masks are not harmful. When you wear a mask, CO2 is not retained, and oxygen levels are not decreased. It may feel uncomfortable to wear one for long periods of time, but it’s not detrimental to your health. 

If you’re anxious about wearing a mask, practicing wearing one at home, in an environment where you feel comfortable. It will help you get used to the sensation. 

“Really, what masks do best is protect other people.”

Dr. Mark Zeitzer

What sources can we trust when seeking information about the safety and risks of regular mask use? Doctors or social media investigators?

It’s a difficult question. We’re supposed to be in the information age, but the truth has become deceptive. I think you have to be exceptionally careful about what you’re reading online and seeing on social media. Social media posts aren’t editorialized. They’re just put there—anyone can say anything!  

When looking for information, you want to find things that are peer-reviewed. Pay attention to organizations whose statements are reviewed by multiple people. You also want to check to see if there’s a political or financial bend coming from that organization. Organizations like the CDC, the WHO, the Washington State Department of Health and the Oregon Department of Health provide useful information that is well-vetted. But again, you have to be very careful about what’s on social media. 

Is it safe for young children to wear masks? 

That’s a great question. The CDC recommends that anyone over two years old wear a mask when they’re out in public. However, mask-wearing is not indicated for kids less than two years old, and for kids while they’re sleeping. Those are two big things to remember. 

Because children don’t tend to get as sick with COVID, parents might be lax about having them wear masks. However, kids can certainly spread it. Also, we just don’t know enough about the virus at this time. There could be side effects that we see further down the road. 

It’s important to remember that children are amazingly resilient and adaptable. I see them wearing masks comfortably and getting used to it, which is really wonderful to see. 

Anything else you’d like to add? 

This week, the CDC released more information about a situation in Missouri, where two hair stylists learned they had COVID-19 after they had interacted with 139 clients. An investigation found that none of these clients were known to be infected with COVID-19. The hair stylists and clients wore face coverings, which likely helped prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In other words—masks work. Wearing a mask is a selfless act that protects those around you, including your loved ones.

Interested in COVID-19 testing? ZOOM+Care offers both viral and antibody testing options. Learn more about the benefits and limitations, and get tested today.

As States Get Back to Business, Here Are Some Activities to Avoid

It’s been six months since COVID-19 first hit our shores, and the pandemic is far from over. There is no vaccine and no cure. And yet, despite a recent uptick in cases, all 50 states have reopened in some way or another. 

For millions of socially-starved Americans, this news might come as a welcome relief. However, until there is a vaccine, we’re all living with some degree of COVID-19 risk. Just because you can chill at a bar, hit the gym, or grab a bite to eat at your favorite restaurant doesn’t mean you should. With COVID still looming large, some situations are riskier than others.

As more and more cities get back to business, it’s important to educate ourselves about potential hotspots for exposure. To help you figure out which plans to keep and which to cancel, we’re giving you the rundown on the most dangerous places to hang around during the pandemic.

#1. Bars and Nightclubs 

Heading to the local watering hole and throwing back a few with friends is a bonding ritual as old as time. But unfortunately, bars are among the worst places to hang out during a pandemic.  

Overall, crowded, indoor areas with poor ventilation pose the highest risk. Not only do bars encourage close quarters, but they make it difficult for people to wear masks. Even if someone walks into a bar wearing one, they inevitably have to remove their mask to eat or drink. What’s more, bars are jam-packed with people speaking loudly, shouting, and cheering—all of which have a higher potential for droplet spread. 

Finally, let’s be real—when’s the last time you made a really good decision in a bar? Getting intoxicated impairs judgment, which means you’re less likely to act in a safe manner. 

In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, “Bars: really not good.” 

#2. The Gym

Who knew that taking a bunch of people, packing them into a small space, encouraging them to exercise (and expel droplets), then adding a bunch of difficult-to-clean equipment to the mix would create a petri dish for COVID?

Even before COVID, gyms were are a hotbed of germs. (We’re not kidding: One study showed that 63 percent of the surfaces in gyms are covered in rhinoviruses.)

Right now, outdoor activity is always safer than indoor exercise. If you do decide to go to the gym, be incredibly diligent about social distancing and stay six feet away from others at all times. Thoroughly wipe down all equipment you touch, including weights, bars, benches, buttons, machine rails, handles, and knobs. It’s also best to bring a personal water bottle and avoid communal drinking fountains entirely. 

Because well-ventilated buildings lower your risk of breathing in viral droplets, take a good, hard look at the ventilation system in your gym. If your go-to spot has always been—for lack of a better word—a little smelly, that’s a sign of poor ventilation. 

Finally, there’s the issue of masks. We know exercising while masked is unpleasant, but it’s essential while indoors. If you haven’t already, invest in a cloth mask before hitting the gym—they’re much more comfortable and breathable than paper surgical masks, which can become damp and lose their effectiveness.

Looking for a safer alternative to communal exercise? Try a group class outside.

#3. Hair and Nail Salons 

Beauty may be pain, but it really isn’t worth dying for. 

It’s physically impossible to stay six feet apart when getting your hair or nails done. That’s concerning, considering that COVID-19 spreads through close, person-to-person contact with infected people.  

While the safest grooming option is DIY, many folks don’t feel comfortable cutting their hair at home.

If you do decide to see a professional, keep in mind that exposure time plays a role in spreading the virus. The CDC definition of “prolonged exposure” is 15 minutes. So, if you’re getting a super-quick, 15-minute haircut, wearing a mask, and staying six feet away from other clients, going to the salon is relatively safe. 

Dyeing, bleaching, and other chemical salon treatments are riskier, however. That’s because you’re spending an extended period of time indoors in close contact with your stylist. If you choose to continue chemically treating your hair during COVID, try breaking your usual cut and color into two shorter appointments to avoid a prolonged encounter. 

Regardless of the salon service, make sure your stylist sterilizes their tools between each client. Finally, wear a mask while in the salon and clean your hands frequently, either through washing or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

#4. Public Transportation 

Riding public transportation means having prolonged exposure to other passengers in small, confined spaces. That’s risky. It’s virtually impossible to disinfect contaminated surfaces between each rider, too, upping your chances of contracting the virus. 

If you don’t have a car, walking and cycling are the safest choices. 

Your next safest option is a rideshare service like Lyft or Uber, or a private taxi. When riding, sit in the back seat to maintain social distance—even if you’re healthy. You should also wear a mask, wipe down any surfaces that you touch, and keep the windows open to increase air circulation.

We know that rideshares and taxis can get expensive, so you may occasionally have to board a bus or train. When you do take public transit, try to travel at off-peak times and avoid morning and evening rush hour. Stay away from super-packed train cars and buses, and don’t board if you count more than 10-15 passengers at a time. 

While using public transportation, wear a mask, and follow social distancing guidelines by staying at least six feet away from your fellow passengers. Even though transit systems have stepped up their cleaning and disinfecting efforts, don’t touch anything you don’t absolutely have to, including poles and handrails. And whatever you do, don’t touch your face while riding. 

As soon as you reach your destination, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

#5. Theaters, Sporting Events, Concert Venues

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again—large groups of people crowding into enclosed spaces? Not great during a pandemic. Unfortunately, that means places like movie theaters, sporting events, and concert venues pose a high risk to attendees. 

Much like bars, concerts and sporting events are made extra dangerous by crowded seating arrangements, ultra-close contact, droplet-inducing shouting, cheering, and drinking. And smaller venues like movie theaters? Close quarters and air conditioning systems can quickly spread the virus. Plus, since movie theaters and popcorn are almost inseparable, people will almost certainly remove their masks to eat and drink. 

If you’re starved for summer fun right now, you’re not alone. Luckily, there are less risky options than catching a movie or heading to a game. 

Two of the safest summer activities are camping and hiking. Just be sure to stay at least six feet away from others, even outdoors, and bring disinfecting supplies along with you.

Camping with family or friends? It’s best to drive out with people in your household who are either uninfected or have been safely practicing social distancing for at least two weeks.

One thing to keep in mind while enjoying the great outdoors: Using public bathrooms, especially ones that don’t get cleaned frequently, ups the risk for contracting the virus. Finally, be sure to wear a mask while inside the restoom and wash your hands afterwards.

Interested in COVID-19 testing? ZOOM+Care offers both viral and antibody testing options. Learn more about the benefits and limitations, and get tested today.

Direct Admit: Another Way ZOOM+Super Helps You Avoid Cost and Hassle of the ER

There are three inevitable truths about going to the Emergency Room:

  1. You’re going to be waiting to see a doctor. And waiting. And waiting. Possibly for a very long time. 
  2. You’re not getting out of there without a hefty bill and a paperwork-induced headache. 
  3. Nine times out of ten, the ER experience is more painful than the injury that sent you there.

Luckily, the Emergency Room isn’t your only option for serious care. Enter ZOOM+Super: ZOOM+Care’s ER alternative. Staffed with board-certified emergency physicians, Super can handle many of the reasons folks go to the Emergency Room: broken bones, x-rays, severe abdominal pain, and much more. 

Compared with a typical Emergency Room, ZOOM+Super is affordable, fast, and stress-free. In most cases, patients can get in and out in 60 minutes or less. (Stack that against the 2 hours and 16 minutes it takes for a typical ER visit.) Even better? The average cost of a Super visit is $410—a whole lot less than the $2,096 they can expect to pay elsewhere.

While ZOOM+Super can treat 80% of the reasons that adults and kids go to the ER, sometimes, patients do need to go to the hospital—typically for procedures like appendectomies. When that happens, we can help them avoid the high cost and hassle of the ER by arranging a direct admission to the facility of their choice.

Our direct admit program helps patients bypass the hospital Emergency Room altogether, and can make a painful situation a lot less stressful.

To highlight this unique benefit of ZOOM+Super, we had a socially-distanced sitdown with Dr. Daniel Tseng, a leading Portland surgeon who frequently operates on Super patients at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center.

Dr. Daniel Tseng

1. HI, DR. TSENG. THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO SPEAK WITH US. COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR MEDICAL PRACTICE? 

I completed my training at OHSU in 2006. I did a two-year fellowship in minimally invasive surgery. I’ve been in practice for 14 years. My specialty group practice is called Northwest Minimally Invasive Surgery, and we are affiliated with Legacy Good Sam and Providence St. Vincent. Our objective is to serve our local community by providing minimally invasive surgery to patients in the Portland area.

2. THAT’S INTERESTING. WHAT IS MINIMALLY INVASIVE SURGERY? WHAT’S THE BENEFIT TO PATIENTS?

It’s when you do traditional general surgery through a very small incision. I can do 95% of surgeries through incisions that are less than ½ inch in size. There are several incisions that I use; a lot are done through the belly button. The main benefits to minimally invasive surgery are less pain associated with the smaller incision, very small scars, a shorter hospitalization, less risk for infection, and a faster recovery and return to work. It’s done often as an outpatient surgery, meaning you don’t have to spend the night in the hospital.

3. HOW OFTEN DO YOU SEE SUPER PATIENTS AND WHAT FOR?

Gallbladders and appendixes are the two most common surgeries we do for Super patients. We’re also seeing more hernias, which could be work related or due to heavy activity and lifting. I see about one or two Super patients per week. I share a call schedule with my partner, Dr. Jeff Watkins, and some other general surgeons at Legacy Good Sam, and so whoever is “on call” will see the patients referred from Super.

4. HOW DOES IT WORK WHEN SUPER SENDS A PATIENT TO YOU FOR SURGERY?

The patient is seen by the Super provider, who takes the patient’s history, does a physical exam, and orders any lab tests or imaging (ultrasound or CT are commonly done to diagnose appendicitis). Once the diagnosis is confirmed, then the Super provider either calls our office or sends us the patient through the Legacy transfer center. We try to do the surgery as an outpatient procedure and send the patient home on the same day. Depending on the time of the day and the operating room schedule at Legacy Good Sam, it can take as little as one hour or up to half a day. The last patient that Super sent me – I took the patient into the OR within an hour.

5. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT SUPER’S CARE MODEL? HOW DOES IT HELP PATIENTS?

There’s a convenience factor. It’s more convenient for these patients to be seen at ZOOM+Care. They can be seen the same day vs. having to wait weeks to see their primary care doctor. From my perspective being able to skip the Emergency Room is the biggest benefit of Super. Having all the patient’s labs and imaging already completed is really helpful as the accepting surgeon.

6. THANKS, DR. TSENG. WE’RE GRATEFUL TO PARTNER WITH GREAT DOCTORS LIKE YOU. 

You’re welcome!

We hope you never need ZOOM+Super, we’re here for you if you do. A visit is just a few clicks away, always

Virtual Orthopedics? Here’s What Using VideoCare™ for Specialists Is *Actually* Like.

If there’s one sentiment we hear a lot lately, it’s “Thank God for the internet.” Whether it’s keeping us connected or keeping us sane, tech is truly the hero of quarantine.

Thanks to apps like Facetime and Zoom Conferencing (we call it “the other Zoom” around here), we’re able to see the smiles of our family, friends, and co-workers. Video games allow us to escape reality and explore new worlds from our couch. And while we highly recommend non-virtual activities such as reading a book or going for a jog, platforms like Netflix give us instant access to a lifetime’s worth of entertainment.

That said, even the internet has its limits. Certain things—such as seeing your orthopedist—are impossible to do virtually.

Or are they?

While telehealth can’t replace physical exams and necessary testing, you’d be surprised by what ZOOM+Care specialists can diagnose and treat virtually, through VideoCare™. We offer several specialist services online, including dermatology, women’s health and gynecology, mental health, podiatry, orthopedics, and more.

As with anything new, we realize that “virtual orthopedics” sounds a little (er, totally) odd at first. To give you a better understanding of what seeing a specialist through VideoCare™ is like, we sat down with two ZOOM+Care providers: Shannon O’Brien, an MD on our Orthopedic team, and Lisa Taulbee, an ND on our Women’s Health team. Read on for some A’s to your most burning virtual care Q’s:

Hi Shannon and Lisa! Many are familiar with the use of telemedicine for common medical issues such as fevers and sore throats. However, few know that specialty care, including gynecology and orthopedics, can be delivered virtually. Can you give us a few examples of reproductive health and orthotropic concerns that can be addressed and monitored through telemedicine?

LISA: There are several concerns related specifically to women’s health that are well-suited to telemedicine. Patients can obtain refills of birth control pills quickly through this route. We can also safely treat a few infections that are common for patients, including yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Telemedicine is also a great way to discuss any questions someone might have about starting contraception like IUDs, or to address health conditions such as endometriosis or PCOS that they may have already been diagnosed with.

SHANNON: Video visits are best utilized (at least so far) to do follow up checks, like range of motion, progress with therapy. It is not good for initial visits for back pain, knee, or shoulder complaints. For those, I need to palpate and feel things.  

Dr. Shannon O’Brien

Gynecological and Ortho concerns often require in-office exams. What happens if a concern can’t be addressed virtually?

 LISA: If a provider feels that a patient requires additional evaluation, say for someone who is experiencing pelvic pain, we can refer them to the clinic for an exam with one of our women’s health providers.

SHANNON: I have asked patients to come in for an in-person visit, and so far have not had anyone refuse.

Outside of keeping people safe during COVID-19, what are some advantages of virtual care? Is there anything that excites you about this brave new world of telemedicine? 

LISA: I think the biggest advantage of virtual care is its convenience. It is so easy to make an appointment and then be “seen” in the comfort of your own home—no need to battle traffic or even change out of your pajamas to access care.

SHANNON: I think it would be a good way to connect people who live remotely to doctors. I lived in Alaska, and there are remote communities that do not have a licensed practitioner at any level for hundreds of miles. I think it would be a good option for people who cannot come in for in-person visits.  

Dr. Lisa Taulbee

A lot of people hear “virtual gynecology” or “virtual orthopedics” and think, “Huh? How on earth does that even work?” What is one thing that might surprise people about the experience?  

LISA: Gynecology is about so much more than just a pelvic exam! Our Women’s Health providers can address many areas of health with their patients. We discuss contraception, sexual health, chronic conditions that may benefit from lifestyle changes, preventative health measures, in addition to any pelvic concerns that a woman may have. And many of these issues can be addressed through telemedicine alone.

What are some differences between an in-person visit and a virtual visit at ZOOM+Care? What are some similarities? 

LISA: These types of visits are identical to each other other than the ability to perform physical exams. Even if a patient really does require an in-person visit, we can significantly decrease the amount of time that they need to be in the clinic by collecting all of the relevant information before a patient leaves their home.

SHANNON: Both visits allow one on one attention, and the history portion is no different. The differences come with the physical exam component. Virtual care is good for patient teaching, but it’s difficult to replicate a good knee or shoulder exam. I can’t get x-rays, put on or remove a cast, fit cam boots or braces, either. 

Your Biggest COVID-19 Antibody Testing Questions, Answered

“Did I really have COVID-19?”

The answer to that particular question may lie in antibody testing. However, it’s important to understand that these tests don’t hold all the answers. 

Antibody tests detect the presence of coronavirus antibodies. If you’re following the news, you may have heard them touted as an indicator of immunity—and a vital tool for reopening the US economy. Unfortunately, the science around both these claims is still murky.  

Larger questions, including whether antibodies confer immunity, will take longer to answer. We have high hopes that positive antibodies will protect folks from future infections, but—until we have all the facts—we won’t know their full value.

So, what’s ZOOM+Care’s stance on antibody testing?

We want to be completely transparent: At this time, we don’t know if a positive antibody test confers immunity to COVID-19. However, ZOOM+Care still believes the tests are important and valuable. To help you understand the benefits and limitations of antibody testing, we’re answering your biggest questions below: 

First off, what are antibodies? 

Antibodies are specialized proteins created by the immune system.

When a foreign invader such as COVID-19 infiltrates the body, the immune system mounts a general attack to combat the virus. But eventually, the body creates an individualized attack by sending out large, Y-shaped proteins, called antibodies. Antibodies “recognize” viruses, bacteria, and infected cells, and target them precisely. 

Antibody tests detect these molecules.

What is a coronavirus antibody test?

The coronavirus antibody test is a blood-draw test. It looks to detect lgG antibodies developed by the body to fight COVID-19. At ZOOM+Care, we use an FDA EUA (Emergency Use Act) antibody test, processed through LabCorp.

What does a positive antibody test mean?

While not perfect, a positive antibody test represents a high probability that you were exposed to COVID-19—even if you never showed symptoms of the virus. 

What about a negative test result? 

A negative test can mean a couple of things, actually. 

Firstly, it can mean you were never exposed to COVID-19. It can also mean you were exposed, but your body did not produce enough antibodies to be detected. Finally, a negative test could mean your body needs more time to produce antibodies after exposure to the virus. 

Can an antibody test detect an active coronavirus infection?

Nope! An antibody test is not meant to detect an active COVID-19 infection.

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, you may be eligible for COVID-19 testing at ZOOM+Care. 

If I have antibodies, I’m immune, right?

Not necessarily. The presence of antibodies only indicates that someone has had COVID-19, but it does not guarantee that a person is immune. That’s because we don’t know how immunity to the virus works yet. At this time, we have no clear idea of what the presence of antibodies means for long-lasting—or even short-term—immunity.

While it’s simply too early to know if a positive antibody test confers immunity to COVID-19, there is hope: Most infectious disease experts think it’s likely COVID-19 does induce some degree of resistance. 

So, what are the benefits of antibody testing?

Even if they can’t determine immunity at this time, antibody tests are still useful. They can provide you with peace of mind by helping you understand if you’ve been exposed to the virus. 

After testing positive for antibodies, you can even donate your plasma to studies looking for treatments. 

Secondly, antibody tests may be a potentially valuable tool for public-health officials. They can help researchers understand how the virus spreads, how deadly the virus is, and how many people have come into contact with it. 

How do I qualify for antibody testing?

Our doctors can determine if you are eligible for antibody testing. However, in order to receive testing, you must be symptom-free for at least ten days.

What type of antibody test does ZOOM+Care use? Is it accurate? 

At ZOOM+Care, we use an FDA EUA (Emergency Use Act) antibody test, processed through LabCorp.

LabCorp’s platform detects IgG antibodies to the COVID-19 virus. They use Abbott Architect as the primary testing platform to detect IgG antibodies to the COVID-19 virus.

This particular test is very accurate. Current EUA approval requires all antibody tests to accurately identify at least 90% of positive cases and 95% of negative cases.

To learn more about the type of antibody test we use at ZOOM+Care, check out our COVID-19 antibody testing FAQs.

How do I get tested at ZOOM+Care?

First, you must speak with a ZOOM+Care provider, either virtually through VideoCare™ or by scheduling an in-person or phone visit at a Zoom clinic near you. They will ask you questions, then order the test for you, depending on your past symptoms. Results are usually available within one to three days.

Schedule AN AnTIBODY TEST Now

May Is Mental Health Month. Here’s What We’re Doing to Support Mental Healthcare during COVID-19.

May marks Mental Health Awareness Month. With the current climate exacerbating feelings of isolation and loneliness, it’s more important than ever to raise awareness about mental illnesses—and break down the stigma surrounding them. Here’s what we’re doing to make mental healthcare more accessible, convenient, and judgment-free, both in the age of COVID-19 and beyond.

Remember back in February, when coronavirus was little more than a distant anxiety, quickly brushed aside? The days when COVID-19 was an excuse to make memes about toilet paper shortages and “working from home?”

Then, remember when things started to get real? When slowly but surely, the seriousness of the situation set in—and the anxiety got harder to laugh off and push aside?

Now, as the weeks (nay, months) of stay-at-home orders drag on, the drumbeat of stress and uncertainty grows ever-louder. Faced with so many unanswerable questions, many find themselves ruminating, feeling hopeless, and, ultimately, depressed. 

What you’re feeling is normal.

You’ve heard it a hundred times, but it bears repeating: it’s okay to not be okay right now. If you’re feeling down, know that you’re not alone. Whether it’s due to job loss, economic uncertainty, or general worries about health and safety, people across the country are experiencing historic levels of depression and anxiety.

According to recent polls from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Benenson Strategy Group, nearly half of Americans say the coronavirus has harmed their mental health. What’s more, calls and texts to crisis helplines are surging, reporting anywhere from a 40 to 1000 percent increase in volume. 

One thing is clear: The current crisis has brought to light the need for improved access to mental healthcare. 

How ZOOM+Care can help, now and in the future

We want to make mental healthcare accessible, easy-to-use, and stigma-free.

Under normal circumstances, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experience mental illness in a given year, according to research from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Of those 46.6 million, only 41% will seek help due to social stigma concerns and long wait times. Even fewer will get the treatment they need.

With COVID-19 pushing more people to seek care, our mission is more critical now than ever.

ZOOM+Care = a stigma-free zone 

One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic? The crisis has sparked concern for the wellbeing of our entire nation, helping to normalize conversations around mental health. As more people speak openly about their struggles with anxiety and depression, stigma starts to erode.

That said, there’s still a long way to go. Stigma is deeply rooted in our society, and many mistakenly believe that mental health conditions are a sign of personal weakness, or that people should be able to control them without help.

ZOOM+Care’s philosophy is that mental illness is no different than any other medical illness. There’s no shame in seeking counsel, guidance, and support. As Dr. Erik Vanderlip—Zoom’s Chief Medical Officer, as well as a board-certified psychiatrist—says, “Just like you’d go to the doctor for a sprained ankle, you can see a Mental Health Care professional for an assessment.”

Improving access to care

Beyond eliminating stigma, ZOOM+Care strives to make mental healthcare ultra-accessible.

We reduce long wait times and irritating loopholes by offering on-demand visits without a referral. We also give you choices for how you want to see a doctor: you can start your mental health journey in person, or virtually through VideoCare™. You can even use ChatCare™ to refill or manage your medications in between visits. 

What’s more, ZOOM+Care supports a whole-person approach to care.

“Getting mental healthcare shouldn’t be difficult, especially right now,” says Dr. Vanderlip. “We’ve built extensive bridges between our everyday healthcare services and our mental healthcare services. We have a ‘no wrong door approach’—you can schedule directly with our mental health team, or you can start your journey through our daily care offering. It’s all private, and it’s all in your control.” 

Empowering patients towards total health

Lastly, we believe in empowering patients with knowledge and giving them the tools they need to take control of their mental health. 

“The goal of our Mental Health Services is to provide great guidance and advice so that patients can plug back into their lives. We want to give them the tools to feel better on their own,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“But whenever they feel stuck, they can reach out. We’re all about empowering people to make decisions about their mental health. In many ways, we’re just copilots—the patient is the one in control.” 

To borrow the words of Dr. Vanderlip, we could all use a copilot right now. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety and depression, we’re here to help. Schedule a visit today. Curious about what conditions we treat (and how we treat them)? Learn more about what to expect from a ZOOM+Care Mental Health visit.

Meds Delivered to Your Door? Meet the Team That Makes It Happen.

At ZOOM+Care, we want to meet people where they are—which, given the current moment, can be kind of tricky. Luckily, we have ways of putting the care (and the prescriptions) you need in the palm of your hand. Enter ZOOM+Care’s Pharmacy delivery program: If you can’t make it to us, we can fill your prescription at our central pharmacy, then ship the meds directly to your door. Easy, right?

But, like most things that look simple from the outside, putting them into practice is another thing altogether. A lot of hard work goes into making our pharmacy program feel frictionless for our patients—especially right now. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous strain on our nation’s healthcare system, ZOOM+Care included. While the most immediate impact is on our clinics, our pharmacy and delivery programs are feeling it, too. Our pharmacy team is on the front line every day, working hard to keep these essential services up and running.

As part of our continuing series on ZOOM+Care’s frontline workers, we sat down (virtually) with our three members of our fabulous pharmacy team: Lisa Willinger, Mallory Kempton-Hein, and Megan Sorenson. Read on to learn more about ZOOM+Care’s Pharmacy and its Delivery program, the new challenges the organization faces due to COVID-19, and how they’re adjusting to pharmacy life during the pandemic.

Hey ladies! So, before we get into it—how are you holding up?

MALLORY: I am doing good, all things considering! Besides the drastic increase in doing puzzles, I am trying to keep my routine as close to normal as possible.

ZOOM+Care pharmacist
Mallory Kempton-Hein, Pharmacist

For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about ZOOM+Care’s pharmacy and home delivery service? 

LISA: ZOOM+Care Pharmacy serves two distinct functions. We pre-pack medications in unit-dose bottles for all of our clinics and serve as consultant medication experts for our providers. We also have a fully-functional retail pharmacy with home delivery service available to all patients, including employees. We take most insurances and offer low cash prices to those patients who either do not have prescription insurance or are out of network. Most prescriptions are filled and shipped within one business day, offering a very convenient service to patients!

What, if any, new challenges do you and pharmacy staff face due to COVID-19?

MEGAN: One challenge the pharmacy staff is facing is to make sure we are keeping a 6 feet distance from one another while continuing to serve our patients and support our providers and crew out in the clinics.

What role does Zoom’s Pharmacy Home Delivery play in the COVID-19 outbreak? 

MALLORY: Zoom Pharmacy is trying to support our patients by encouraging social distancing and delivering her prescriptions directly to her home. This way, our patients can stay home and prevent the spread of COVID.

Do you think the pandemic will change the way we get our medications in the future? 

MALLORY: I think this pandemic has changed how we think about using delivery for all items, including medication. This pandemic has pushed people to move to a home delivery method, but being able to avoid long lines and waiting at the pharmacy is a convenience for our patients now and in the future.

ZOOM+Care pharmacist
Lisa Willinger, Pharmacist

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

 MEGAN: For us, our workdays are very similar—except there’s no traffic to and from work. 

Unlike many ZOOM+Care employee’s, the pharmacy staff is unable to work from home. Can you describe the mood amongst your team?

LISA: There are definitely days we wish we could work from home, but overall the team’s morale has been great. My coworkers have really stepped up to take on extra projects and tasks to support each other during this time. 

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

 MEGAN: I’ve been walking my dog while listening to some podcasts, watching shows/movies, and catching up with family and friends via FaceTime. 

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

MEGAN: I’ve been running outside to cope with my stress and remind myself this won’t last forever.

Any advice on how to help/support medical and pharmacy workers during this time?

MALLORY: We are here to help you, and with healthcare stretched thin right now, please be patient and understanding. Also, please stay home!

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

LISA: I would like to say thank you to everyone out there who has continued to be patient and kind despite the stress and uncertainty of COVID. I have seen so much compassion in the world the past few months that it makes me very optimistic for the future. 

ZOOM+Care pharmacy tech
Megan Sorenson, Pharmacy Technician

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?

MALLORY: My proudest moment has been seeing Emma’s on the frontlines. It has been so inspiring to see them put their own needs and concerns about COVID aside to take care of our patients. 

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

LISA: My fiance and I had one of the many wedding casualties of the season, so we are definitely going to have a big wedding reception when this all blows over! I am also itching to go to an outside concert or festival. Oh, and karaoke. Definitely karaoke.

ZOOM+Care home delivery

WE KNOW THINGS AREN’T NORMAL RIGHT NOW, BUT WE’RE STILL HERE DOING WHAT WE NORMALLY DO: PROVIDING YOU WITH BETTER CARE, FASTER. (WHETHER IT’S THROUGH VIDEO, CHAT, PHONE, OR AT OUR CLINICS.) GET CARE NOW. 

3 Ways to Get Frictionless Healthcare during COVID-19

VideoCare is virtual healthcare from ZOOM+Care

As the coronavirus outbreak unfolds, our commitment to providing high-quality care has never been greater. The CDC recommends using virtual healthcare to avoid exposure and help curb the spread of COVID-19. For the time being, we’re asking our patients to start their care by connecting with a provider through one of our virtual telehealth options.

For 14 years, ZOOM+Care has challenged the status quo of healthcare by offering radically convenient access to primary, urgent, and specialty services. We’ve given our patients care where they want it (in their neighborhoods) and when they want it (same day, on demand). Now, with the expansion of our telemedicine services, we have more choices for how you want to receive your healthcare: in-clinic, or virtually through ChatCare™, PhoneCare™, or the newly-launched VideoCare™.

We know navigating the world of virtual care can be overwhelming at first, but don’t worry—no matter how you choose to see a doctor at ZOOM+Care, the experience is always an easy one. Keep reading to discover three ways to get frictionless healthcare through Zoom:

#1: ChatCare 

Feeling not-quite-right, but not sure what’s ailing you? ChatCare™ is the perfect place to start. For just $25, our providers can diagnose and treat dozens of common injuries and illnesses online.

While ChatCare™ can’t handle everything (Real talk: it’s really hard to get stitches through text message), our docs can address issues like allergies, sinus infections, asthma, colds, coughs, fatigue, fever, UTIs, and more. For concerns with visible symptoms, you can even send photos to our providers. 

Chat Now 

New to ZOOM+Care, or needing more comprehensive treatment? ChatCare™ might not be the best option for you. Which brings us to…

#2: VideoCare ™ 

Nothing can replace seeing a doctor face to face, but what happens when you’re sheltering in place? Enter VideoCare™: an easy, affordable way to have a visual conversation with a doctor—without leaving your house. 

Similarly to ChatCare™, VideoCare™ lets you have a real-time convo with a provider who can discuss, diagnose, and even prescribe medications for your health concerns. 

Now you might be asking, “Why VideoCare™? Can’t I just use Chat?”

Compared to ChatCare™, Video offers a much more comprehensive experience—it allows our doctor to examine both the visible and auditory signs of your health concern. Due to its more personal nature, VideoCare™ is the perfect choice for first-time patients and those seeking treatment for chronic ailments and preventative care, and even specialty concerns.

Wait, I can see a specialist through VideoCare™?

That’s right! You don’t have to put your speciality care on hold for COVID-19. Thanks to VideoCare™, you can visit with a ZOOM+Care specialist face to face—virtually.

Currently, we offer video visits for Dermatology, Gynecology, Orthopedics, Podiatry, Internal Medicine, and Mental Health.

What about meds?

We can prescribe (and even ship!) medications to you through Video, as needed.

Even if it’s outside of regular business hours, our VideoCare ™ doctors can help. We have providers available from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends.

Most insurances cover video visits the same as a visit to a clinic, so standard copays and deductibles apply. If you’re uninsured, VideoCare™ starts at just $75!

Start Your Video Visit 

Virtually Seamless Virtual Care

While virtual care can’t replace physical exams and necessary testing, our telehealth options offer unparalleled continuity. If you start a VideoCare™ visit and still need to see a doctor in person, we’ll make sure you have a seamless transition. We’ll schedule your appointment at a nearby ZOOM+Care, and won’t charge you for the extra visit. Your in-person appointment will pick up exactly where the virtual one left off. 

It’s safe and secure, too. 

We value your privacy above all else. VideoCare™ visits are sercure, private interactions between you and your ZOOM+Care provider. They take place through HIPAA-compliant video and do not capture any personal or identifiable data.

#3: A PhoneCare™ & in-person visit

Due to COVID-19, we’re seeing most of our patients virtually. However, we’re still here to deliver care the old-fashioned way: face to face, in the flesh, with a smile. (Even if you can’t see the smile under our masks—it’s there. We promise.)

If you think you need to see a doctor in person, start with a PhoneCare visit. Your cooperation helps us control patient volume at our clinics and prepare protective equipment to keep you safe.

Over the phone, your doctor will discuss your symptoms and determine if you need to come into a clinic. If so, we’ll book you at a nearby ZOOM+Care and waive the cost of your phone appointment. 

And even though times are weird, your in-office visit will be the same waitless experience you’ve come to expect—no sitting in the lobby, no lines, and no extra trips to the pharmacy.

WE KNOW THINGS AREN’T NORMAL RIGHT NOW, BUT WE’RE STILL HERE DOING WHAT WE NORMALLY DO: PROVIDING YOU WITH BETTER CARE, FASTER. (WHETHER IT’S THROUGH VIDEO, CHAT, PHONE, OR AT OUR CLINICS.) GET CARE NOW. 

#TogetherWeZoom: Join Us in Celebrating Our Frontline Heroes

ZOOM+Care Covid-19 frontline
Danielle Almony works the front line at our clinic in Ballard, WA.

Right now, the world is at war. But the enemy is a virus, not a country—and our heroes are not enlisted persons. Instead, they are soldiers of another kind: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, clinic associates, caregivers, grocery store clerks, small business owners, and city workers. Every day, they sacrifice their health for the health of our community; they endure long hours in personal protective equipment to give us the services we still so desperately need.

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 do—and to learn more about the extraordinary challenges they’re currently facing—we’re dedicating our next few #TogetherWeZoom posts to them.

First up, we spoke to Danielle Almony: a PA-C at our Ballard clinic in Seattle. Read on to learn about how she’s coping with COVID-19 stress and anxiety, what her favorite quarantine pastime is, and her advice for how to support medical workers during this time.

Hi Danielle! Thank you so much for chatting with us today. So, first off, given the moment, how are you feeling?

As most people are saying, it’s a weird time. At times, I feel like I’ve got everything in control, but other times I look around and think, “Wow, what is going on right now.

What challenges do you and the ZOOM+Care staff face on a daily basis? 

I think one of the biggest challenges we are facing is not being able to have a warm interaction with our patients anymore. I miss the handshake and the ability to share a smile since we now have to wear masks throughout the day. I feel like the personal connection with learning about our patients, such as what they like to do, how their day is going, has gone by the wayside a bit. It’s been hard to practice medicine as I had prior to this pandemic. I feel that people aren’t always quite as open in these times. 

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

Before coronavirus, I used to love grabbing a coffee and going for a walk around Greenlake after dropping my oldest daughter off at preschool. I also loved browsing the library for fun books and going to the zoo. These activities have been halted, but now I make coffee at home and go for a walk in my neighborhood, trying to maintain social distancing by crossing the street. We are looking for books virtually now, and while we have lost turning pages, we have been able to find some books that are interactive. And, we’ve rediscovered our backyard and the joy of make-believe. 

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

I live with my partner and two daughters, and prior to the pandemic, I would love to open the front door and to get big hugs from them. However, I now go in through my garage and take a shower prior to seeing them. I also have been cognizant of checking my temperature daily and being aware of the smallest things, which prior to the pandemic, I would have brushed them off. 

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

 I think, overall, we are optimistic that things are moving the right direction. I feel that we have adapted with the addition of Phone and VideoCare ™ visits. Implementing these visits has allowed us to interact with people again in a safe and controlled way, and has lifted a bit of the anxiety off our shoulders regarding PPE counts and exposure as frontline workers. I also feel that Chat and VideoCare™ are the future of medicine, as it puts the patient in control of when and how they want to be seen. The fact that it was rolled out so quickly was extraordinary, and really opened ZOOM+Care up to a new world of medicine. 

How is the Zoom staff dealing with the potential shortage of Personal protective equipment? 

Thankfully, ZOOM+Care has been able to maintain our PPE, but at times looking at our dwindling numbers, it gets to be a bit concerning. We are making sure to practice social distancing, and thanks to telehealth, have been able to preserve our PPE for those patients who really need in-person visits. 

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

I have always loved cooking and am trying to jump on the baking bread train. I’ve learned that I will probably never open a bakery…

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

My partner and I have rediscovered a love of doing puzzles. It really allows us to disconnect from the ever-present social media and news and just focus on one piece at a time. 

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

I think one of the biggest things to do is to continue social distancing and to stay home because that keeps everyone healthy and can hopefully slow the transmission of this virus. Also, realizing that we are here if we are needed—and will continue to be here when the pandemic slows. I want to tell patients that they shouldn’t hesitate to schedule a visit. 

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

Go back to the farmer’s market and meet my friend’s new baby!

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

That it is ok to be not ok, and at some point or another, we are all feeling that way. The vast majority of us have never lived through a pandemic before, and so we are all taking it one step at a time.  

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? 

ZOOM+Care has been amazing in the way it has supported both the staff and the patients. Having a daily check-in with leadership has given us insight into our ever-evolving approach to fighting this virus. Also, the fact that leadership has been available and open to answering any and all questions makes me feel supported and like they have my best interest at heart. Being able to partner with a laboratory to test an at-home kit for COVID-19 diagnosis shows how forward-thinking we are as a company, and I am proud to be a part of that. 

Danielle said it best—times are weird. We know things aren’t normal right now, but we’re still here doing what we normally do: providing you with better care, faster. (Whether it’s through video, chat, phone, or at our clinics.) Get care now. 

Hey Zoom: I Feel so Helpless during the COVID-19 Pandemic. What Can I Do to Help?

ZOOM+Care Covid 19

Great question.

COVID-19 has ushered in an era of uncertainty—uncertainty about the future, yes, but also about how to help each other during these unprecedented times.

Hands down, the best way to help is by practicing social distancing.

But as we all shelter in place, many of us are wondering, “What else can I do? How can I support frontline workers? Should I sign petitions? Organize a fundraiser to purchase personal protective gear for local hospitals?”

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

Be emotionally available.

“There are several things you can do to help others right now, beyond social distancing,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“First and foremost, take care of yourself and those close to you. We need to be extra sensitive to the emotional needs of our loved ones during this time—especially older relatives, and vulnerable people in your community. Talk to your parents, call extended family members, and frequently check in on friends who are self-isolating at home. “

LIMIT UNNECESSARY TRIPS.

Vanderlip also suggests doing everything you can to avoid unnecessary trips.

“We’re still seeing a lot of people on the streets, packing into grocery stores, and even flocking to the coast for weekend getaways. We should only be leaving our homes for essential activities.”

When it comes to grocery stores, Vanderlip says, “While you shouldn’t stockpile groceries, having some necessities on hand in your home—if you’re in a financial position to buy them—is something that can help you and others. That way, you won’t have to take frequent trips to the grocery store.”

THINK LOCAL.

“When thinking of ways to help, many people overlook their immediate circle of influence—their friends, family, and neighbors,” Vanderlip reflects.

“Everyone is super focused on raising money for masks and personal protective equipment—but there are probably people in your building or on your street that could use help. Do you have an elderly neighbor, for example? See if you can pick up cleaning supplies, groceries, and other other necessities for them. Help keep them safe by wearing gloves and leaving their packages outside the door.”

CITE YOUR SOURCES.

“Finally, don’t contribute to the spread of rumors or misinformation,” says Dr. Vanderlip.

“Conspiracy theories catch faster than COVID-19, but truth takes longer to spread. Before you share the salacious rumor you heard, check your sources and pause. Fear and misinformation lead to panic, chaos, and poor decision-making. During this time, it’s essential to focus on what we each can control and what we can’t.”

Right now, social distancing is the most effective measure for containing the spread of the coronavirus. Check out our answers to your most burning social distancing questions.