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  • Writer's pictureDr. Carrie Steiner

HELP with Family Concerns & COVID-19

During the coronavirus epidemic, first responders are now disaster responders. Disaster response is stressful but can be rewarding and it provides a unique perspective that others will not experience. Try to make this into an opportunity to reconnect with others and focus on what is really important. Remember, your presence on the street and at home provide comfort to others. At the same time, most first responders want to be able to care more for their families but feel helpless to keep them safe. Here are some practical skills to help first responders care for their families:

· Have or create a family preparedness plan: 2 weeks of food & water, first aid supplies, prescription medications filled, flashlights, matches, copies of all important documents, etc.

· Try to take off all of your work clothes and equipment in the garage or somewhere isolated from the general family living areas. Wash or disinfect your hands, equipment and clothing when they are at home. Do not shake your clothing.

· Ensure you and your family are using soap that lathers in your hands and rub them for 20 seconds, this will break down the COVID-19.

· Use at least 65% of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at work when you cannot wash with soap. Did you know Listerine might be a good substitute in a pinch? It is 65% alcohol.

· Every family member should wash hands before touching food, cell phones, using the bathroom, remote control, etc.

· Keep you and your families nails short to reduce the chance of spreading the virus. You and your family members can also use thick moisturizer on their hands as another protection.

· Try to maintain 6 feet from family members if you feel sick or are worried about spreading the virus.

· Consider asking your department or hotels in the area you patrol if they would set you up if needed for a 14-day quarantine as another precaution.

· Use facetime or other social media to stay connected to family when you are working. Family will likely feel comforted when they see and hear from you.

· Ask each family member to help support the family by helping with tasks such as taking out the garbage, paying bills, etc. Recognize that family members may have to take on roles they are not accustomed, and patience and flexibility is important.

Here are some suggestions to help you and your family cope with the additional stressors of the Coronavirus:

· Limit sources and updates of information: Get your information about the coronavirus from one or two news platforms that you trust. Keep informed through these sites only and limit how often you look at them.

· Go for family walks and exercise: When possible, encourage your family to try to get at least 30 minutes of fresh air or exercise as a goal.

· Avoid excess: All family members should avoid too much caffeine, sugar, alcohol, screen time, etc. Try to find moderation. It is easy to binge watch TV, but find other activities to do around the house such as board games, spring cleaning, reorganizing, gardening, writing, art, music, etc.

· Eat healthy: Eat nutrient dense foods including vegetables and fruits. Consider having food delivered to your home.

· New routine: You likely will have to develop a new family routine and allow your family to adjust to their new roles. Ensure you are making your new routine structured and predictable as this will help with many of the uncertainties and stress. Routines are especially helpful for children.

· Sleep: Prioritize your families sleep and when possible, encourage everyone to stick to a consistent wake and sleep schedule. Avoid caffeine 8 hours prior to bed. Avoid electronics 1 hour before bed. Read a book in paper form.

· Have Fun: Watch comedies, go to or for positive and inspiring stories, reminisce about the old times with someone, look at old pictures, etc.

Due to shelter in place orders for most family members but knowing that you still have to work, you may feel overwhelmed and stressed. Notice if you are feeling burned out or need a short break so you don’t take it out on family. Notice if you also need additional support from mental health professionals or chaplains as many are working remotely. However, as much as you can try to focus on daily care of sleep, rest, healthy food, exercise, and the love you have for your family. Also be proud of yourself and that you are again showing your bravery and selflessness for this job and the American public. While most Americans are noticing and appreciating first responders helping people to stay safe, there are a few that will tell you they do not but remember they always will call you when they need as well. That is how great you are! Stay Safe!

Dr. Steiner is the owner of First Responders Wellness Center and veteran Chicago Police Officer. Contact 1-630-909-9094


Center for Disease Control “Emergency responders: Tips to take care of yourself” retrieved

Substance abuse and mental health services administration: Tips for Adjusting to Life at Home. Retrieved from

Substance abuse and mental health services administration: Tips for disaster responders: Return to work retrieved from

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