House Call with Carol Hughes

Anticipating a second wave and limiting its impact

As we enter a third month of physical distancing and learn that our actions have helped us avoid a worst-case pandemic scenario, the challenges are increasing. While we deserve a big pat on the back for our efforts to date, greater easing means we must become more vigilant in order to maintain our success. The lessons from the fall of 1918 cannot be forgotten since that was when the second, and more deadly, wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic settled in. With some forecasts predicting a second wave of COVID-19 this autumn, how we act now and through the summer will have big implications.

The good news is that as the weather improves and we are able to spend more time outdoors, the chances of infection are lessened. We know that this virus spreads easier indoors where air circulation is limited, and surfaces are only as clean as we make them. Depending on the space and how many people are using it, physical distancing is more difficult to maintain inside as well. Outside, all of this is easier. Best of all, sunlight disinfects and researchers say it greatly reduces the viability of the virus.

With the ability to enjoy outdoor activities, it may be tempting to think we have turned a corner, but how we return to workplaces will be critical to our long-term prospects. To do this well we must educate workers and ensure they understand their workplace rights. An important exercise at any time, especially for new hires, this will help workers make informed decisions and raise appropriate concerns. It is also important that employees be part of the discussion on protocols and safety measures at this time. It’s easier for everyone to work on the same ends when they understand what that means.

For larger employers, it is time to lean on health and safety committees. While always important, these groups will be critical in determining workplace threats and developing protocols for the pandemic. Enforcement of regulations is also more critical in a time of heightened awareness. Self-regulation has proven a disaster at the best of times, but with the stakes so high, it is imperative that official regulations are maintained, and regular inspections made as thorough as possible.

One of the best ways to avoid the spread of this virus is for an individual to self-isolate when they begin to feel sick. Still, too many jobs offer no sick days and many businesses aren’t able to hire enough people to ensure staffing flexibility when a worker becomes ill. Paid sick days are not guaranteed in Canada and New Democrats are pushing the government to ensure that full-time jobs have two weeks paid sick leave. No one should be forced to work when they are sick and most white collar workers enjoy paid sick days while blue collar and service industry workers make do with little or no options when sick. It is a double standard and not the first that the pandemic has shone a light on.

As some of us return to work and we enjoy the improved weather by spreading out from our homes through the summer months, let’s commit to keeping up our determined effort to flatten the curve. That means we still won’t be able to do everything we would like to and must take extra care when we find ourselves in challenging circumstances. We are now receiving word that personal masks help limit the spread of this virus, so we will likely become accustomed to wearing those in public indoor spaces. We will need to keep up existing protocols like hand-washing as well. But if we are able to maintain our focus and remember that the virus hasn’t gone anywhere, we can continue to achieve good results and set ourselves up for a smaller second wave in the future.