EDITORIAL: Playing safe: Pandemic should highlight; importance of health habits

Society continues to glide slowly toward a return to normal life as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wane in this country. That progress should include a full return to normal, preventative healthcare practices.

If anything, the yearlong global crisis offered a stark reminder of how suddenly, and how severely, an unexpected event can affect our health, both individually and communally. The first COVID-19 case was detected in this country in January 2020, and by the first week of March schools and businesses were being shut down and all Americans were told to stay home as much as possible.

Fortunately, many Rio Grande Valley residents saw the value of taking active measures to protect their health. They largely have complied with and supported efforts to fight the viral disease and keep it from spreading. Even now, the Valley, along with other border areas, has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state. Despite our high rates of uninsured residents and shortage of healthcare professionals, Valley residents appear to understand and value the importance of pursuing healthy options whenever possible.

Those healthy decisions should continue in our post-pandemic world. During the past year, many people missed routine health checkups and screenings. Whether they simply chose to stay home or were unable to see their primary care doctor because the doctor’s office was closed to all non-symptomatic cases, people missed primary checks, dental exams, ob-gyn visits and other non-emergency procedures.

Fortunately, most checkups likely are going to be positive; one of the benefits of self-quarantining and social distancing is that people came in contact with fewer people who might have communicable diseases. Cases of the flu, common colds and other illnesses fell dramatically during the pandemic, as other germs and viruses were avoided along with the novel coronavirus.

Age-related conditions such as cancer, osteoporosis and eye degeneration, however, might continue to develop regardless of a person’s social activities, and the sooner such issues are caught, the better.

A recent report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that millions of Americans had missed routine cancer screenings during the pandemic. Now that people are starting to reschedule, the effects are apparent.

“Now they’re getting screened and their breast cancers are much more advanced, They have had palpable cancers that they felt grow over the last year,” Dr. Debra Platt, vice president at Texas Oncologists and lead researcher on the study, told ABC News.

Health professionals have always recommended routine check-ups even when people feel fine, as such exams can catch a problem that’s in its early stages and hasn’t yet started showing symptoms. The simple removal of a small polyp is much better than more severe treatment for a cancer that could have been caught sooner.

This is why insurance increasingly continue to lower costs for routine physicals and preventative procedures.

Now that doctors are reopening their doors, it’s time to start making those doctors’ appointments.