The Not So Social Life: The Effect of COVID on Social Wellness

By Joy Golden, LCSW | Manager Behavioral Health

Over the past two years, we have been asked to stay home, quarantine, socially distance, and more to reduce the spread of COVID. This change in our normal behavior has lasted a long time. It has also caused a very real and serious change to normal life and relationships by not going to school or work, or socially interacting with friends and family. 

While good for managing the COVID spread, these changes caused emotional stress for many people. 

How COVID Impacted Us Socially

Did you know your schedules and routines – whether fun or not – help us feel safe? Starting as babies, people rely on predictable schedules, continuing throughout school, work, and life in general. In these routine activities, you meet, talk to, and work with many people. Those everyday interactions are essential to our health and emotional development. 

Social distancing was hard for most people at first because it wasn’t “normal for us. Then, as we began to accept this behavior as the new normal, COVID risk decreased, and society began to relax restrictions moving back toward the old normal.

Now with COVID infections on the rise again, society is seemingly toggling between open and closed. This back and forth does not support the normal daily schedule or feeling of safety and disrupts exposure to important relationships.

What To Do If You’re Struggling

Start by acknowledging this emotional tug of war and monitor your mental health as you continue to navigate the pandemic. One of NOAH’s providers wrote an article about Social Anxiety with helpful tools to help understand some of your feelings.

According to the American Medical Association, symptoms of emotional stress can include:

  • Feeling powerless
  • Low motivation
  • Feeling tired or burned out
  • Sadness
  • Poor concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

Ways to maintain or improve your social wellness:

  • Get fresh air and enjoy the outdoors, don’t stay inside.
  • Limit social media.
  • Use video calling apps for regular check-ins with family and friends or get creative with virtual game nights and happy hours.
  • Find a support person you feel safe talking about your feelings and challenges with. Verbalizing your feelings helps get them out in the open and not stuck inside your head.
  • Slowly introduce more social exposure at parks or outside restaurants.
  • Smile and talk to the cashier at the grocery store, you neighbor walking by, or another person in your day-to-day interactions.

If you or you or someone you know is struggling with social wellness, NOAH behavior health specialists are here to help talk with you, diagnose any illnesses, and help you as you work through these challenges.

Get COVID Testing at NOAH’s FastTrack

NOAH offers FastTrack COVID testing at several health center locations. These FastTrack appointments are drive-up and only take a few minutes, making them easy for patients. Results are typically provided in about 24 hours.

The NOAH FastTrack testing does NOT require a separate telehealth or in-person provider appointment. However, a FastTrack testing appointment must be scheduled in advance, we cannot accommodate walk-in patients for this service. New and existing patients can schedule appointments at the location and time the works for best for them. Some same-day appointments may be available.

How FastTrack works:

  1. Request a COVID Test either online or by calling 480-882-4545.
  2. Show up to the NOAH Health Center at your scheduled time.
  3. Receive testing by a member of NOAH’s team.
  4. NOAH will contact you by phone with your test results (response time may vary but is usually within 24 hours).
  5. Your test results may also appear on your MyChart account.

The FastTrack test is a PCR test, which stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction. These tests are highly accurate and processed by our lab, Sonora Quest Labs. While the FastTrack test is not the same as an at-home test, patients receiving a FastTrack test at NOAH will receive a FREE at-home test kit (contains two tests) for future testing – while supplies last.

If you would like to talk with your healthcare provider prior to scheduling a COVID test, please schedule a telehealth or other type of appointment by requesting an appointment online, calling 480-882-4545, or message your provider through MyChart.

Each FastTrack test MUST have a separate appointment, even if patients – such as family members – plan to drive together. Please schedule all FastTrack COVID tests together if you plan to bring multiple people for testing.

For other questions around COVID and vaccines, visit NOAHhelps.org/COVID.

NEWS: Latest COVID Surge Impacting Local Healthcare

The newest wave of COVID cases are impacting people, families, businesses, and organizations throughout our community, including NOAH. Staff across NOAH’s eight health center locations are working hard to ensure patients have access to healthcare and that staff are able to provide the best care possible in a safe and supportive environment.

Video message from NOAH Chief Medical Director Dr. Connie Tucker

NOAH health centers will be making changes over the next few weeks as cases continue to rise. We ask our patients and community to help us in the following ways:

  • Be patient with the NOAH team as we are working with fewer staff. NOAH team members may be out caring for sick loved ones, monitoring symptoms, and following isolation and quarantine guidelines.
  • Switch appointments to virtual appointments if possible. Some appointments must be in-person. However, it is better for everyone if appointments that are able to are switched to virtual
  • Limit to just one visitor accompanying a pediatric patient, or patients with disabilities or mobility issues for in-person appointments.
  • Use MyChart to schedule an appointment or COVID test, ask your provider questions, request a prescription refill, and more.
  • Understand temporary changes, including reduced hours/availability for appointments, longer hold times when calling for an appointment, longer wait times for return call/email from our team.

We are all working to keep our community healthy and safe, but we are working with fewer staff. Please be patient as we remain flexible to the surges and to supporting our staff during this challenging time.

Some Helpful Links:

To talk to a NOAH team member, call 480-882-4545.

NEWS: COVID Vaccines for Children Age 5 – 11 at NOAH

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in children ages 5 to 11. NOAH has the vaccine available to begin scheduling COVID vaccines for children and is kicking this off with a vaccine event on Saturday, Nov. 20 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at NOAH Palomino Health Center.

The approval came after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was studied in approximately 3,100 children. The study shows the vaccine to be 90.7% effective in preventing COVID-19 in children 5 through 11 and there were no serious side effects found during the study.

While the same vaccine, the dosage children 5 to 11 will receive is 1/3 the dose those 12 and older receive. The second dose of the vaccine will be 21 days after the first dose. NOAH will schedule the second dose appointment when patients schedule the first dose for their child.

More Questions About COVID Vaccines for Children?

NOAH has put together some of the most common questions about COVID vaccines for children.

Schedule An Appointment

Parents or guardians of patients ages 5 to 11 can request a vaccine appointment at NOAH. The first vaccine opportunity is:

COVID-19 vaccines are free, and no insurance is required. For individuals under 18, parental consent is required. ID is required for parent or guardian and can include any government-issued ID.

If you have questions about COVID-19 or the vaccines, NOAH has answers here, or you can make an appointment to talk to your healthcare provider.

NEWS: NOAH Offering COVID Vaccine Booster

Recently the CDC approved a booster shot for the Pfizer COVID vaccine. NOAH will begin offering booster shots for specific groups starting Monday, Oct. 4. To schedule your Pfizer booster, contact NOAH at 480-882-4545 or request an appointment online.

All boosters should be given at least six months after the initial doses.

The CDC recommends booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for people:

  • Age 65+ and residents in long-term care settings
  • Age 50-64 with underlying medical conditions
  • Age 18-49 with underlying medical conditions, depending on their individual benefits and risks
  • Age 18-64 who are at increased risk for COVID-19 exposure and spread because of school, work (including healthcare), or housing situations (including shelters), based on their individual benefits and risks.  

Many of the people who are now eligible to receive a booster shot received their initial vaccine early in the vaccination program, between December 2020 and May 2021, and will benefit from this additional protection. Read more about the CDC’s guidelines on boosters here.

The initial two-dose Pfizer mRNA vaccines provides excellent protection against COVID, but the data shows that the effectiveness of the vaccines at preventing mild to moderate infection decreases by around 20% over time. Regardless of whether people get the booster or not, the initial two-doses of Pfizer are still more than 80% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalization or death.

Did you get the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

At this time the CDC has not recommended booster shots for either the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The CDC will continue to monitor the safety and effectiveness of all COVID-19 vaccines and evaluate data to make any new recommendations for other vaccines or groups of people to receive boosters.

If you have any questions about the COVID vaccine, are unsure whether or not you qualify for the booster dose, or want help deciding which vaccine is right for you, make an appointment to talk to your NOAH provider.

5 Things to Know for Flu Season 2021-2022

Flu season is around the corner and NOAH is ready to keep you and your family protected. We know that with COVID there might be additional questions about the virus, symptoms, and the vaccines. NOAH has you covered with these top five things to know about flu season.

1. Flu Season Is Almost Here

Flu season officially starts in October and can last through May of the following year. But the peak of flu usually happens around December through March with February being the month that often has the most flu cases nationwide.

2. Try These Safety Measures Stop the Flu

Many of the things we are doing now to slow or stop the spread of COVID like extra hand washing, more antibacterial gels and wipes, staying home when sick, wearing masks (especially if sneezing or coughing), will help reduce the flu as well! During last year’s flu season, the flu was minimal because of these safety measures, along with a lot of social distancing, so it is possible to keep the spread of flu lower than previous years.

3. The Flu Vaccine Helps

Every year, flu shot manufacturers identify the strains of influenza A and B that pose the most risk for the coming season. Flu shots also include H1N1, and because of flu shots, H1N1 isn’t causing outbreaks anymore. Flu shots are adjusted every year with new influenza (flu) strains because it mutates like all viruses.  

4. Flu Shots Help Different Ages Appropriately

Children are a high-risk group with flu so anyone 6 months and older should get the flu shot. When children under eight are getting the flu vaccine for the first time ever, they will need to have two doses, given four weeks apart. The following flu seasons will be just one dose.

A high-dose flu vaccine made specifically to support the more fragile immune system of people 65+ is available during flu season.

5. Flu Shots and COVID Shots Can Go Together

The CDC says that it is safe to get the flu and COVID vaccines at the same time.  If you have any concerns about potential side effects or changes in effectiveness of the vaccines if given together we suggest talking to your NOAH provider to come up with a vaccine plan that is right for you.

Almost everyone can and should get the flu shot every year, including people with egg allergies.. The only people who shouldn’t are patients under 6 months old or someone with history of an anaphylactic reaction to the flu shot in the past or a flu shot component. 

The CDC has a lot of information about flu season including updated flu cases and vaccine activity on their website here. NOAH offers patients different options including regular appointments and drive-up flu shots. If you have questions about the flu vaccine or want to schedule your appointment, contact NOAH today!

NEWS: Pfizer COVID Vaccine Receives Full FDA Approval

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval for the Pfizer COVID vaccine Monday, Aug. 23 for patients 16 and older. This is the first COVID vaccine to be granted full approval from the FDA.

“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

In December of 2020, the Pfizer vaccine was granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the FDA and has been administered to millions of people nationwide with high success rates. In May 2021, Pfizer submitted to the FDA’s Biologics License Application for the 16 and older population and was granted approval today.

To receive approval, the FDA reviewed data that has been updated since initial clinical trials (data that allowed for the EUA in December) which included tracking outcomes in even more patients over a longer period of time after receiving the vaccine doses.

The Pfizer vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, is still approved for use under the FDA’s EUA for patients ages 12 – 15 and for a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals.

Moderna, which also received EUA in December 2020, began the process for full FDA approval earlier this summer and approval is expected later this year, but because every vaccine is different timing may vary. Johnson & Johnson has not yet begun the process for full FDA approval but has issued statements that they plan to submit for approval later in 2021.

NOAH offers all three COVID vaccines at health center around the Valley. To request a vaccine for people 12 and older, call 480-882-4545 or request a vaccine appointment online.

Ask the Expert: COVID-19 in 2021

Dr. Jennifer Vanyo-Novak, D.O. | Family Physician, Medical Director

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us ups and downs over the past year and a half. We hear about the “return to normal” but what does that mean and how do we get there?

NOAH’s Medical Director and Family Physician Dr. Vanyo-Novak breaks down the facts, explains the complex, and clears up rumors and misunderstandings about COVID, vaccines, and the new normal.

Dr. Vanyo-Novak

A lot of places are opening back up. Do we really need masks again since places stopped requiring them? Isn’t COVID almost over?  

Unfortunately, no, COVID is not almost over. Though the number of cases declined for a while thanks to mask mandates, social distancing, and vaccines against COVID-19, we are now seeing the cases rise.  As of 7.27.2021 the CDC has advised that even vaccinated individuals begin to mask again indoors in high risk COVID regions which includes us here in Maricopa County. This is in part due to lower than needed vaccine rates, not enough people following guidelines, and an increase in travel and social gatherings.  Like with most viruses that go uncontained, we are seeing the virus that causes COVID-19 evolve into new variants (strains of the virus) that are smarter, more easily transmitted, and harder to defeat than the original strains of the virus.

Right now we are hearing about variants, especially the Delta variant, but what is the difference? Should we be worried about another outbreak?

Viruses are living things and they continuously change so they can evolve and survive. There are several different strains right now, Delta being the most common one in the U.S. Several new strains are labeled as “Variants of Concern” by the CDC meaning they are more transmissible, cause more serious illness, don’t respond as well to treatments, and can be more resistant to vaccines.

With a rise in cases due to the Delta variant and other “Variants of Concern” we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations in younger patients without risk factors, even young children.  The virus is not just a risk for the elderly or people with underlying conditions. 

If someone got the vaccine, are they safe from new COVID strains? Will they need to take booster shots?

Honestly, we are still learning about the virus, its’ variants, and the vaccines. In the beginning health experts and scientists weren’t sure booster shots would be needed. Now, it looks likely that boosters will be needed but we don’t know when. Originally, they did not think boosters would be needed soon, but this can change as the case numbers rise. What the experts are working on understanding is if vaccinated people are getting COVID, is it because these new strains are outsmarting the vaccines, if the vaccine effectiveness is fading, or a combination of the two. 

Currently 97% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals. That tells us that while we will not ever be 100% protected, most vaccinated people are protected and if they do get infected it is unlikely that they will get seriously ill. That was always a big goal with the vaccine.

If someone didn’t get vaccinated and doesn’t plan to, won’t they be safe since other people got the vaccine and infections are lower than earlier in the pandemic?

It is great that as of 7.28.21 338 million Americans have been vaccinated against COVID. However, that is only 49% of the U.S., putting us well below the 70-80% needed for herd immunity.

COVID cases aren’t looking as good as they were even a month ago. Less than 50% of Maricopa County is fully vaccinated and with school starting, travel increasing, and mask mandates mostly gone, the number of infected people will continue to increase.

Most of us interact with other people: school, work, stores, travel, transportation, exercising at gyms, and more. We can’t just think about ourselves, we must consider our community – the herd – and protect that. We have a responsibility to our friends, family, neighbors, and society to take care of each other.

The virus will continue to mutate into new variants and harm people, and the vaccines are our greatest defense.  We need to achieve herd immunity before we can truly begin to feel safe.

Kids don’t get COVID, so why do they need a vaccine?

In general most children have a much more robust immune system than adults. Children have gotten COVID throughout the pandemic, but they are getting it more now, and ending up in the hospital more. With new variants this trend may continue, and more children may become seriously ill or worse, die from this virus.

Children, like the rest of us, interact with family members, friends, classmates, teammates, and many other people. We want children to be protected from this virus, but also for them to protect their community as well.

How can we possibly know if the vaccines are safe if they aren’t fully approved?

They have all been given Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and here is a short video to explain it. All vaccines have trials that require at least 3,000 people. The COVID vaccine trials were done on 30,000 people before the first approvals in late 2020!

The main difference in the approval and process for the COVID vaccines is that while most vaccines go through a series of steps, finishing one step before moving the next one, with COVID vaccines, they moved to the next step once all the data showed things were looking good (as opposed to fully completed). But every step was still included, all the monitoring and review was still happening, but in a more fluid way.

At this time, every step has been fully completed and vaccine makers are beginning to apply for full FDA approval.

If the risk of getting really sick from COVID-19 is still low, why should someone take a new vaccine?

Possible side effects from the vaccine are still much less than the risk of COVID-19 and serious illness, including what we are now seeing as long-haul COVID. The vaccine side effects are mostly normal, expected, and mild. COVID is mutating and with each strain it can be more deadly, or more infectious than before.

We cannot just consider ourselves; we have to consider the effects of our choices on those around us. 

If the mRNA (vaccine technology used in some vaccines) isn’t new medical technology, why haven’t we used it in vaccines before.

t hasn’t been used in vaccines before COVID because we haven’t needed a new vaccine on this scale until now. The mRNA technology has been used successfully for decades, with a lot of research done on its benefits and any risks.

Anyone 12 and older can schedule their vaccine appointment one of NOAH’s locations. Click here to request an appointment. If you have additional questions or concerns about COVID-19 or the vaccine, make an appointment with one of our medical providers.

NEWS: NOAH to offer Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12+

PHOENIX (May 12, 2021) – Neighborhood Outreach Access to Health (NOAH), a leading community health center in Maricopa county delivering comprehensive health services to the underserved, announced today that it will offer the COVID-19 vaccine to those ages 12 and above beginning on May 21.

NOAH began rolling out COVID-19 vaccines in February, already vaccinating more than 16,000 patients, including many underserved community members. Anyone can schedule their vaccine with NOAH if they are 12 and older, regardless of whether they are a patient.

“We prioritize healthcare for every member of our community, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, that has meant adjusting, adding, and enhancing what we are doing and remaining flexible to the realities of this virus,” said Wendy Armendariz, NOAH CEO. “We are excited to provide the Pfizer vaccine to individuals 12 and older, in addition to Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. The NOAH team is thrilled to be able to add this important layer of protection to families in our community.”

NOAH currently offers both the Moderna two-dose vaccine as well as the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine at various NOAH health centers. The nonprofit health center will begin offering the Pfizer two-dose vaccine in addition to the others, with the second dose given 21 days after the first. There is no cost for any COVID-19 vaccine.

At this time, Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for individuals under age 18. Five of NOAH’s nine locations currently offer COVID-19 vaccines, with two of those beginning to provide the Pfizer vaccine to 12 and older:

  • Desert Mission Health Center at 9201 N 5th St, Phoenix
  • Palomino Health Center at 16251 N Cave Creek Rd, Phoenix

Anyone can schedule their vaccine with NOAH, regardless of whether they are a NOAH patient or not and regardless of immigration status. No insurance is required for the vaccine. NOAH has bilingual staff and can help individuals schedule at https://noahhelps.org/covid-vaccine/ or by calling 480-882-4545.

Did You Know, Beating COVID is FREE for Patients

Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t.

We want all of our patients, and their family, friends and coworkers to safe, healthy, and have the care they need. So, whether you come to NOAH, or go to another health center, whether you have insurance or not, you won’t have to pay for:

  • Testing – both diagnostic (COVID-19 positive or negative), or antibody (showing you had COVID-19 or received the vaccine) are no cost to patients.
  • Treatment – includes office or telehealth appointments, emergency room visits, inpatient or outpatient care, skilled nursing facility or other long-term care. Also included is equipment like ventilators, and ambulance or non-emergent transportation service.
  • Vaccine – anyone 16 and older in Arizona can get the vaccine with no cost to the patient. At NOAH, we have the Moderna vaccine that has been approved for 18+ and anyone can request a vaccine appointment. Once vaccines are approved for younger ages, NOAH will administer vaccines to additional age groups at no cost to the patient.

What about health insurance?

No patient cost means no patient cost.

If you are a new or existing NOAH patient, and are uninsured, you do not need to talk with us first. NOAH works directly with HRSA and Maricopa County to ensure that none of our patients – insured or not – will have to pay for any COVID-related medical care.

If you are an uninsured or undocumented patient not coming to NOAH, talk to your health center ahead of time to see if they will agree to bill the federal government for the COVID-19 care listed above.

More information about this is on this Health and Human Services page, including English- and Spanish-language materials.

Important Details about your COVID care

The only way we get past COVID-19 is together, with everyone getting the healthcare they need and deserve. Some important details:

  1. If you are uninsured and got a bill for COVID-19 testing or treatment:
    1. If you didn’t pay it yet, ask your provider to bill the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program instead of you.
    1. If you did pay the bill, you may be owed a refund. Contact the facility that billed you. If they don’t cancel the bill or give you a refund, contact the HHS Office of Inspector General Hotline at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or online to file a complaint.

If you have additional questions about COVID-19 or the vaccine, visit NOAH’s COVID-19 page. If you want to talk to a provider about COVID-19, treatment, vaccines, or something completely different, request an appointment.