Recently, governments of various countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic called for the gradual reopening of places that had their activities interrupted as a result of the lockdown measures and other preventive measures. Although the question on the minds of many might be how safe reopening would be for the general population, suggestions are that it will have benefits in different aspects of the economy. With updates reporting increasing numbers of people infected with COVID-19, it is important to know that the pandemic is not over even though there are more people moving around. People will be expected to return to work, educational institutions, worship centres, businesses, and many other public spaces where people gather would soon resume ‘normal’ activities. An optimistic assumption is that adequate measures have been put in place to prevent further spread of the infection before reopening, however, that may not be the case, as it can be quite challenging and cumbersome to totally cover all areas and assure populace of complete efficiency and effectiveness of measures adopted. The diversity in services provided and operations of sectors of the economy means that no one single guideline can be applied to all places due their peculiarities, although the common goal is to reduce transmission of COVID-19, prevent death and protect the health of the population.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of illness, death, as well as affected individuals, families and communities in many different ways that could have long lasting negative impact on the health of the population with far reaching effects. Reports have shown that modes of transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 are mainly through respiratory droplets or contact with a surface that has been contaminated with the virus. Transmission through droplets occurs when there is close contact (within 1m) with an infected person who may be showing mild to severe symptoms. Many people recover from the disease, however, some develop severe to fatal complications that lead to prolonged hospital admissions.
Despite differences in the specifics of implementing hygienic measures at different locations, general principles of infection prevention and control are recommended. There would be a lot of uncertainty as people return to work because they may come in contact with other people who are not sure of whether they have the disease or not. The safe thing to do therefore is ensure consistent practice of hygienic and preventive measures. For a typical worker whose presence is required at the workplace/office that is located distant from home, there may be additional concerns about becoming infected between the home and the workplace (i.e as the individual travels to and from the workplace) – the mode of transportation. Carefully analysing every activity one carries out daily to minimise exposure is vital.
Making the workplace, schools, public spaces and other locations safe and healthy should be priority with the anticipated reopening. This can be achieved by minimising risks of exposure to the infection at these locations in the best ways possible and a collective effort as well as cooperation of everyone involved would be required. For instance at the workplace, the employer and the employee must work together in maintaining good hygiene through proper use as well as adherence to guidelines developed to protect their health and those of their clients. It is not enough to have or know the guidelines without practicing them. Preventive measures should be applied to all the areas within an organisation or space where transmission can occur. Putting the mode of transmission into consideration, preventive measures can be practiced to intercept transmitting the virus at those points. For example, there are certain surfaces that are frequently touched, like tables, desks, doorknobs, touchscreens, ATM machines, stationaries, toilets, biometric machines, railings for staircases, among many others which would require regular cleaning and disinfection where applicable.
Some helpful measures such as
Providing adequate facilities for hand cleaning in public places (frequent hand washing or cleaning using alcohol based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be encouraged)
Maintaining social distancing while outside the home (Individuals are advised to maintain at least a 6ft distance between each other)
Appropriate use of face masks when public (hygienic cleaning where applicable or disposal after use to avoid self-contamination). This helps to prevent spread of droplets from infected persons
Proper and regular cleaning of objects and surfaces, especially those that are frequently touched with water, soap and disinfectant when necessary (this is because studies have shown that the causative agent of COVID-19 can still be found on surfaces hours after contamination).
Encouraging individuals not to touch face, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
Sick people should be encouraged to stay at home, seek medical help and get tested when it is recommended by their primary care physician
Regular temperature checks
Ensuring adequate ventilation in enclosed places and avoiding overcrowding (to reduce risks of being exposed to the respiratory droplets and getting infected)
Consistency in applying these measures as well as other preventive measures can go a long way in keeping the number of people infected increasing as people go back to work or routine. Although reopening has its benefits, which is different for individuals, it should be done in a safe manner so as not to cause more harm to health than it is trying to prevent. There is a varying responsibility for health which lies in the hands of the people, either as individuals, students, employees, employers, communities or government and involves adopting healthier and more hygienic behaviours consistently.
Health quote of the week “The health of the people is really the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a state depend.” –Benjamin Disraeli