Keeping workers COVID-safe requires more than just following public health orders


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Stephen Duckett, Grattan InstituteSo far in the pandemic, state public health advice has been front and centre of public messaging about protecting the community from the spread of COVID-19.

But merely following the public health orders won’t necessarily meet employers’ obligations to protect staff from COVID, especially as restrictions ease in the Eastern states.

Protecting employees from COVID is good for staff, of course, and also good for the organisation because it will reduce the potential for staff being off sick.

Vaccination alone won’t guarantee a COVID-safe workplace. Even double-vaccinated people can be infected. Vaccination reduces the chance of infection by between 60% (AstraZeneca) and 80% (Pfizer). And double-vaccinated people can also transmit the virus, although again at a much lower rate.

As part of the scientific advisory group OzSAGE, we’re issuing guidance to employers about creating COVID-safe working environments. We propose organisations follow a four-level hierarchy of COVID controls.

Employers need to consider four key areas.
OzSAGE

Level 1: vaccination and working from home

The most effective protections against COVID are vaccinating to reduce the risk of infection, and limiting interactions with infected people. These are the two standard public health measures seen in state public health orders.

Employers should encourage employees to get vaccinated by providing:

  • leave or paid time off to get vaccinated
  • reliable and up-to-date information on the effectiveness of vaccinations
  • the details of the locations nearby where vaccinations are available
  • on-site vaccination, if possible, for shift workers and those who can’t easily attend a GP or vaccine hub appointment
  • incentives, such as additional annual leave days for vaccinated workers.

In some circumstances – especially where the organisation is responsible for caring for people at a higher risk of infection – mandatory vaccination of employees might also be considered.




Read more:
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Staff should be encouraged to work from home if that’s possible, while risk of infection is still high. Working from home doesn’t eliminate the risk of COVID, but it eliminates the risk of contracting (and transmitting) COVID in the workplace.

Putting in place “hybrid” working arrangements reduces the number of people in the workplace at any one time, and therefore the risk of transmission.

Level 2: safe indoor air

State public health orders have essentially focused on density limits. These are important, but don’t guarantee good ventilation and clean air.

COVID spreads by aerosols. Respiratory aerosols from breathing and speaking accumulate in indoor spaces, resulting in increasing risk over time.

Poor ventilation (stagnant air) in public buildings, workplaces, schools, hospitals, and aged care homes contributes to viral spread.

Masked woman with a clipboard surveys a storeroom.
Poor ventilation is a risk for transmitting COVID.
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Read more:
Australia must get serious about airborne infection transmission. Here’s what we need to do


Good ventilation is a key part of reducing the risk of COVID transmission.

As the number of people inside a space increases, CO₂ will increase to varying degrees, depending on the effectiveness of ventilation and the volume of the space. Measuring carbon dioxide (CO₂) is therefore a useful surrogate indicator to assess the relative infection risk of COVID in an indoor space.

It’s recommended employers invest in CO₂ monitoring and use that as a trigger to reduce occupancy and/or increase the provision of outdoor air and HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtering to ensure the risk of COVID-19 is appropriately mitigated.

Having automated alerts (in non-HEPA filtered areas) from CO₂ monitors will prompt action to improve ventilation or leave the workplace.

Level 3: administrative measures

Organisations should be ready to manage COVID outbreaks – especially in New South Wales and Victoria, where public health contact tracing is at capacity.

Organisations might also use regular rapid antigen testing (where practical and feasible, considering cost and logistics), to prevent or limit outbreaks when people are shedding the virus but are asymptomatic.

Man holds rapid COVID testing stick.
Rapid tests can help detect COVID in those with no symptoms.
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Read more:
Rapid antigen tests have long been used overseas to detect COVID. Here’s what Australia can learn


The risk of an organisation-wide shutdown can be minimised by creating work bubbles – teams coming to work on different days – and other measures to reduce physical interactions.

Staggering work hours to reduce congregating at lift spaces is another useful, low-cost strategy.

Level 4: masks

COVID-19 is an airborne disease, so the use of masks is integral to reduce transmission and to offer some protection if there is any breakdown of other controls.

Masks are also essential because 30–70% of transmission may be asymptomatic: from infected people who look and feel well and may not be aware they are infected.

Basic cloth masks and surgical masks reduce the transmission of COVID. The effectiveness of masks increases when they fit snugly on the wearer’s face.




Read more:
Evidence shows that, yes, masks prevent COVID-19 – and surgical masks are the way to go


Workers should be provided with appropriate fitted masks and should be trained in how and when to use them. At a minimum, where workplaces are in areas with community transmission of COVID, masks should be worn whenever workers are indoors.

Rates of COVID are still high in NSW, Victoria, and the ACT. Employers, especially in those jurisdictions, should review their work health and safety plans to ensure their workers and customers are properly protected.

This article was co-authored by occupational and environmental physician Karina Powers, engineer and scientist Kate Cole, Flinders University Professor Richard Nunes-Vaz, and other members of the OzSAGE advice for business working group.The Conversation

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health and Aged Care Program, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Using military language and presence might not be the best approach to COVID and public health


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Stuart Ralph, The University of Melbourne and Mark Stoové, Burnet InstituteGovernments around the world have enacted unprecedented responses to minimise the spread of COVID to preserve both individual health and health systems.

In enacting these responses, governments have repeatedly used rhetoric invoking notions of war. Often they’ve painted the virus as an “invader” and a “wicked enemy”.




Read more:
Stop calling coronavirus pandemic a ‘war’


Such language was arguably useful to help mobilise resources and underscore the seriousness of the situation to the community.

However, ongoing use of military rhetoric, war metaphors and, in some cases, the direct involvement of military personnel in public health communication and local responses may undermine efforts to control the virus — especially among communities most vulnerable to COVID.

The language of war

Among the most tangible examples of militarisation of Australia’s COVID response was the appointment of Lieutenant General John Frewen as commander of the national COVID vaccine taskforce.

Another is the launch by Frewen of a military themed vaccination campaign “arm yourself”.

These approaches to getting the vaccine rollout back on track are perhaps unsurprising given the warlike language invoked by leaders in Australia and elsewhere. Two weeks ago, Scott Morrison said “this has been a long war against this virus, and there have been many, many battles”.

Framing health strategies as a war against disease is a long-standing approach for garnering support and attracting funding for disease control and eradication programs.

This method was central to the conception of post-WWII “campaigns” against infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.

Such metaphors may be useful for simplifying complex biomedical concepts or encouraging public vigilance.

But health communicators increasingly urge us to reduce the use of military metaphors in describing our responses to disease.

In the context of cancer, perceiving the illness as an active enemy can lead people to be more fatalistic and more likely to perceive preventative behaviours as futile.

Using militaristic language inevitably defines those who succumb to disease as losers of a battle. Writer and activist Susan Sontag suggested wrapping disease in metaphors risks inappropriate inferences that people who contract, die or suffer from disease didn’t try hard enough. This may result in discouragement and shame among people affected.




Read more:
Queensland’s coronavirus controversy: past pandemics show us public shaming could harm public health


Deploying soldiers in Sydney is inappropriate

Another example of the inappropriate use of the military has come in Sydney’s current outbreak, where uniformed soldiers are now being deployed to enforce lockdown.

This presence is clearly causing some distress and resentment among local community leaders as it did in suburbs of Melbourne last year.

It’s incongruous that this same military is simultaneously being used to deliver public health messages that rely on engagement, trust and transparency.

South Western Sydney is rich in culturally and linguistically diverse communities where Arabic and Vietnamese are widely spoken as first languages, and is home to many refugees and First Nations people.

Many of these people have good reason to regard armed forces as unreliable sources of public assistance. In these communities the use of the army in enforcing lockdowns will inevitably undermine its dual role as a source for trusted health-care messages.

This may also resonate poorly with migrants from countries where authoritarian governments use the military and police to control and intimidate communities.

This month’s vaccine coverage data show South Western Sydney has some of the lowest uptake of COVID vaccines in the country. A non-military approach will be required to address this.

In public health messaging, the use of militaristic or violent language also risks alienating other parts of the intended audience. Some Australians, for example LGBTQI+ people and people with disability, have been historically excluded from the military or militaristic narratives.

For many Australian women too, the use of aggressive and warlike language amid the pandemic has been particularly ill-fitting. Social inclusion policy strategist Amy Haddad has pointed out the military language employed around COVID in Australia has been particularly gendered.

Masculine and martial calls from the prime minister to “summon the ANZAC spirit” disregard many groups, and particularly many women who are central to the primary health-care roles in responding to COVID.The Conversation

Stuart Ralph, Associate Professor and malaria researcher, The University of Melbourne and Mark Stoové, Head of HIV/STI research, Burnet Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MEXICO: THREE FAMILY MEMBERS MURDERED IN CHIAPAS


Suspecting family of witchcraft, neighbor’s gang takes machetes to adults, children.

MEXICO CITY, September 3 (Compass Direct News) – When the 11-year-old daughter of Antonio Gomez became ill of a stomach ailment, her father decided that it was due to witchcraft committed by his evangelical neighbor.

Gomez, of the Jolitontic community of Chalchihuitan municipality in Chiapas state, gathered seven friends to kill the family of the supposed culprit. After midnight on August 23, they allegedly killed three adults – the parents and their eldest son – and wounded six children with machetes.

Mariano Lopez Perez, public prosecutor of Indian Justice, reportedly said neighbors regarded the father in the attacked family, Pedro Gomez Diaz, as “an evangelical who prayed a great deal.” The neighbors reportedly denied that the family believed in or practiced any kind of witchcraft as far as they knew.

According to Tuxtla Gutierrez-based Cuarto Poder newspaper in Chiapas, all eight of the men who participated in the massacre of three Indians in Jolitontic are now in jail in San Cristobal de las Casas, awaiting justice.

The attackers burst into the hut of the family to kill first the eldest son, Rene, 32. They then slashed the mother, Marcela Hernandez Giron Gomez, and the father, Gomez Diaz.

Before he died Gomez Diaz’s cries alerted the rest of the family, but the murderers managed to seriously wound six other children: Esteban, 4; Ernesto, 6; Anita, 7; Maria, 14; Petrona, 16; and Martin, 18. They were all taken to the public health hospital of San Cristobal de las Casas.

Petrona Diaz was reported to be in the most serious condition; two of the children required surgery. The hospital refused to give further information to Compass, but reports regarding the children indicate that Petrona Diaz suffered the amputation of one thumb and an exposed broken bone.

Maria Diaz was reportedly gravely ill, and her siblings Ernesto and Anita were discharged from the hospital on Aug. 25. The next day they went to be with their grandmother in another town.

Authorities reportedly found three machetes that had been used in the attack, hidden in the brush.

Police reportedly buried the bodies of the three murder victims in a common grave behind their house, as “because they had no relatives in the community.”  

Report from Compass Direct News