If the numbers are any indicator (and judging by the new models that were recently released by the Ministry of Health this week), then all are pointing toward British Columbia continuing to flatten the COVID-19 curve, which is great news. As our Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, stated in a recent briefing, our province is at “the end of the beginning of this pandemic.” That being said, this in no way, shape or form means that we can go back to how we were in December or January, before certain measures went into place (such as physical distancing and decreasing the number of people allowed to congregate in groups.) What this does mean, however, is that we can start to think about what our new normal might begin to look like, and what we can continue to do to prevent the spread of the virus while having some semblance of normalcy once again. What’s certain is that we will not be going back to life as we knew it – at least not for some time – as there is still the risk for a resurgence of the virus, and many unknowns still surrounding it.
While retailers (such as clothing stores and other outlets) were not ordered to close, many did so voluntarily in order to keep both their staff and customers safe based upon the fact that they could not safely implement physical distancing measures. Now, as many retailers begin to think about re-opening their doors to the general public, they should strongly consider utilizing things like engineering controls – including the installation of plexiglass and/or barriers, which we have seen at essential services such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Administrative measures also need to be taken into consideration. These particular measures would involve minimizing the number of customers allowed in stores at once, as well as decreasing the amount of staff working at the same. By implementing a combination of these control measures, this will help prevent the spread and exposure of COVID-19.
Employers are also probably wondering how they can reopen while fulfilling their responsibility of ensuring that their workplace remains safe and healthy for their employees; while employees are also likely wondering how they can safely return to work if it’s still possible to develop COVID-19. First and foremost, employers (and employees) need to ensure that anyone with symptoms of the virus or other illness (including fever, sore throat, coughing, or sneezing) stay home from work until their symptoms have completely resolved. If you’re currently working remotely due to being considered high-risk for COVID-19 (i.e. having an underlying illness such as respiratory disease, diabetes, etc.), then you might want to see of your employer can work out some kind of agreement where you’re able to work remotely some days, and go into the office on others. Just because the numbers show that things are on the decline in our province doesn’t mean that we should stop taking any and all precautions necessary to keep ourselves and those around us as safe as possible.
Then, there is the matter of social settings, such as hanging out with friends, going to concerts, or even to parks and beaches. As we’ve seen, physical/social distancing has been absolutely critical in mitigating the spread of this virus – and it has worked. If we stop what we’re doing now, we run the risk of going right back to where we were in mid-March, where we saw a steady increase in the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases, and this is something we need to avoid. As Dr. Bonnie Henry previously ordered, gatherings of over 50 people are currently prohibited in the province – and even though gatherings of under 50 people are technically allowed, this doesn’t mean that we should suddenly invite large groups of people to get together – because in scenarios such as these, those physical distancing measures can still be difficult to implement. When it comes to events such as concerts or sports, many of these are held at arenas; and while sports leagues across the world are in constant discussions as to how they can move forward with their seasons, we likely won’t see gatherings inside of arenas and stadiums for some time – potentially not until there is a vaccine available for COVID-19. As for having face to face interactions with people, spending time with immediate family – especially if in the same household – is acceptable. However, when it comes to spending time with friends and other acquaintances that we wouldn’t normally spend time with on a frequent basis, this is something we still need to reconsider. Social interaction is critical, but we need to be able to do so in a safe manner, as the more we interact in person with others, the higher likely we are to be exposed to the virus, and subsequently expose others to it as well – even unknowingly. When interacting with others, we need to think about those that are at higher risk. Even interacting with just one non-family member could be a bigger risk than one might realize. So, stay connected with your friends, but do so virtually.
These are steps we’ve never had to take before and we’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices…and while a lot of it has taken some getting used to, British Columbians should be proud of all they’ve accomplished thus far. We live in unprecedented times, but by continuing to commit to these principles 100% every day, we are all doing our part in saving lives and changing the future for the better.