Work in a post-Covid World
It’s been six weeks of being on government ordained lockdown, and as we start to see some indications that we are moving to the next stage of pandemic management, we must now consider what the reality of going back to the office will look like – if indeed we all will!
We’ve all had to adjust to working from home along with its disruption to our regular routine and its many distractions. But now there have been murmurs of easing back into our former lives, or at least a semblance of it.
On Monday defence secretary Ben Wallace said that employees could be returning to work sooner than anticipated, provided that physical shields between colleagues are put into place, personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn by all, and limits on time spent in proximity to others is enforced.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this – let’s say indication as opposed to announcement – has provoked much discussion and a lot of divide among the general public who not only have now adapted to this new reality but are now fearful of the risks attached to the end of lockdown.
How can we reduce risk in the workplace?
Without an official government release, reportedly to be made by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson on Sunday 10th May, everything is mere speculation, however, we can make reasonable judgements on what rules are likely to be enforced. Below, we give our thoughts on both what these are likely to be and our view on them:
The 2-meter rule
A great deal of focus has been placed on the “2-meter rule,” a concept which actually developed out of research way back in the 1930s.
The idea is based on the belief that the oft-repeated distance is the infective range of a cough
However, more recent work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that coughing spreads droplets as far as six metres, and sneezing as much as eight metres, which pretty much makes adhering to 2-meter distancing pretty futile!
The research showed that droplets can stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes, which is a worrying statistic when considering reintroducing groups into an enclosed space like an office or indeed public transport.
Some COVID-19 hospital wards have been described as being in a mist of coronavirus-laden droplets, a description that doesn’t inspire much confidence when weighing up returning to the hustle and bustle of office and commuter life
The “2 meter rule” is pretty outdated science that has led to a singular focus on post-lockdown infection control being centred around physical distance as the sole marker for risk – this has been a helpful governmental buzz phrase #socialdistancing and this is to be applauded as one step in the right direction.
However, the reality is contingent on many other factors, including time-in-contact with others as well as surface contamination with virus laden particles (fomites).
That’s why, although it is advisable to limit physical proximity to others, that alone won’t safeguard you against contracting the disease. We must continue to be diligent with handwashing and wiping down surfaces to protect against the aforementioned fomites.
It is much easier to block droplets just as they come out of your mouth when they’re much larger, compared to blocking them as they approach the face of a non-infected person who is on the receiving end of those droplets.
In England, the Government doggedly held onto the notion that face masks are ‘probably not worth it’ for as long as it could, weeks after other Western governments accepted the science.
This was in part an attempt to camouflage the lack of PPE stock in the UK before the pandemic struck, out of fear that public use of face masks would exhaust supplies.
Evidence has shown that it is highly likely that a mask will reduce an infected persons risk of spreading virus. Given it’s believed that 50% of transmission occurs before symptoms even manifest themselves, and that 20-30% of people have no discernible symptoms at all, the wearing of a face mask could certainly help those who are non symptomatic, unknowingly spreading the virus
Even when an infected person speaks , the virus is released and only the very largest droplets end up surviving more than 0.1s before drying out and turning into tiny droplet nuclei that are 3-5 times smaller than the original droplet itself, but still contain some virus.
That means that it’s much easier to block droplets just as they come out of your mouth, when they’re much larger, compared to blocking them as they approach the face of a non-infected person who is on the receiving end of those droplets.
In summary, continue to wear a mask, and if you don’t have one then invest in one!
How can we personally contribute to the prevention of COVID-19 spreading?
The success and feasibility of undoing lockdown at population level is dependent on a variety of factors that we can all contribute to. These include limiting the number of people you mix with to a minimum (minimising your ’bubble’), wearing a mask to protect others around your bubble, and preparing your body as much as possible to fight the infection should it come.
While we do what we can to prevent spread, we must wait for the Government to either develop or procure an efficient and effective test – and let’s recognise globally we’ve yet to common up with a vaccine for the common cold and it’s not for want of scientists trying!
Limit your Bubble
This crisis has shown many that working from home is actually a lot more achievable and efficient than previously believed. And since the risk of social infection will remain high for the foreseeable future, the risk of exposure to disease when using public transport is likely to outweigh the option of travelling to and from the office.
However, for some, working from home just isn’t an option, in which case, if you have to go to work, fret not, there are ways to circumvent over-exposure: use odd hours to travel, avoid public transport, walk or cycle where possible.
Just remember that we are all getting frustrated by limiting social interactions, but be honest with yourself about the risks you trade for returning to a close-contact wider social life. It may be taxing but it is worth it to protect your family, friends and yourselves!
What can you do between now and the promised vaccine? You can reduce your vulnerability of being one of the 20% who experience the most-grave symptoms of the coronavirus infection.
The really severe cases are caused by a ‘cytokine storm’ – a kind of immune meltdown that attacks vital organs. It is more likely to affect those who are already in a pre-existing inflammatory state – being overweight is a clear risk that does this.
Since physiological stress is the root cause of inflammation in the body, there are some obvious things you can actively do to prepare and protect against the infection:
- Lose fat – especially visceral fat (beer bellies). Excessive body fat causes inflammation and worsens outcomes. Your waist should be less than half your height in cm
- Manage psychological stresses – this is a proven direct driver of physiological stress. Understand it and how to manage it
- Exercise – cardiovascular fitness improves outcome. When your heart and lungs come under attack they will cope better if they are in good shape
- Vitamin D and Omega 3 fats – will reduce inflammation and the research suggests that they may be part of the solution
- Gut health – the microbiome is intrinsically linked with immune responses and inflammatory state. Try to eat 20 different portions of fruit and vegetables a week
The CorLife App is a managed pathway t o improve your health and support the changes you need to make in order to best protect yourself against the disease
We’ve helped many businesses become stronger, fitter and more resilient – as you begin to think about returning to work it’s perhaps worth considering whether a partnership with CorLife could help your business and your employees.