COVID-19 Q&A: Our “New Normal”

COVID-19 Q&A: Our “New Normal” | Dr. Ali Ghahary

While British Columbia’s state of emergency has been extended for another two weeks (and into the foreseeable future) along with social distancing measures also remaining in place (i.e. keeping your distance from others by at least 6 feet, no large gatherings of groups over 50, etc.), we’re also now entering into the plan to restart the province. However, with COVID-19 still being in our communities, many British Columbians still have lots of questions and concerns.

“In terms of reopening our province, what are the different Phases?”
To prevent a resurgence or rapid transmission of the virus, our province implemented a restart plan in different phases – Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, and Phase 4. Phase 1 consists of the operation of essential services including but not limited to healthcare services, emergency response personnel, transportation services, and financial institutions. Phase 2, which is set to begin in mid-May, will allow for the restoration of things like elective surgeries, dentistry, chiropractors, physical therapy, in-person counselling, as well as the reopening of the retail sector, hair salons and spas, restaurants, cafes and pubs, childcare services, and outdoor spaces – as long as there are enhanced protocols in place. If the transmission rate of COVID-19 remains low or on the decline, our province can then enter into Phase 3 of its restart plan around June to September, where we would see a broader reopening of places such as parks (with overnight camping), hotels and resorts, select entertainment venues (i.e. movie theatres), domestic-only productions for the film industry, as well as K-12 and post-secondary education – but again, under enhanced protocols. Under Phase 4, we would be able to once again hold large gatherings, go to concerts, sporting events and conventions, as well as travel internationally – but only on at least one of the following conditions: That there is community immunity to COVID-19, that there is evidence of broad (and successful) treatments, or that a vaccine is widely available.

“I own a business. Is it safe to re-open my doors to staff and the public? What measures will I need to ensure are in place so that everyone is safe?”
While many businesses are choosing to reopen their doors to staff and customers as soon as May 19th, this must be done in compliance with orders from our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, as well as in compliance with WorkSafe BC’s policies. For example, depending on what type of business you operate, you may not be able to reopen until Dr. Henry has lifted or modified some of the currently existing orders that are in place. If you are going to reopen your business, you need to be able to control exposure and have certain safety measures in place. For example, none of your workers should come into the office if they are sick or experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 – including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, or shortness of breath – and they must self-isolate at home for at least 10 days. In addition, physical distance also still must be maintained in the workplace, plexiglass barriers should be installed where necessary, and there should also be adequate hand-washing facilities and sanitization items (i.e. soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.)

“My workplace has reopened, but I have an underlying medical condition (such as COPD) that puts me at high risk for COVID-19. Should I be returning to the office?”
As mentioned previously, in order for workplaces to be safe for their employees, employers need to follow the orders of our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and also be in compliance with WorkSafe BC. If the required health and safety measures have not been met, and particularly if you are considered high risk to develop COVID-19, then it is not recommended you return to the office and you should instead work from home if you are able. If adequate health and safety measures have been implemented and you still feel uncomfortable about returning to work, you should speak with your employer to see what can be done to accommodate you. For example, allowing you to continue to work from home for an extended period of time – or work from home on some days while going into the office on others, and so on and so forth. If you feel there is an undue hazard (these include an unwarranted, excessive, inappropriate or disproportionate hazard) revolving around your return to work, then you have the right to refuse to go to work and should contact WorkSafe BC with your concerns.

“Can I expand my social circle outside of family?”
If you are going to begin to expand your social circle outside of family, you still need to ensure that you are keeping your group small and maintaining physical distancing. You should also stick to the same group of people rather than hanging out with different groups and keep your visits with others short. In addition, you should avoid hugging or kissing others, and should not share things like food, drinks or utensils, as transmission of COVID-19 can also be spread these ways.

You can find more in-dept information on British Columbia’s plan for now and into the future by visiting www.gov.bc.ca/restartbc.