Over the next few weeks, as most government and private workplaces start amidst the ongoing COVID pandemic there are few pointers, we will do well to keep in mind. Over the past few months we have all struggled to acclimatize to a new lifestyle, one that followed the mantra ‘Stay at home, flatten the curve.’ And while that phrase is still relevant and will continue to be so for some time, there’s a new mantra to live your life by: The New Normal.

What does the new normal mean?

This means that flattening the curve does not mean eliminating it and the pandemic rages on. The fact that curfews and lockdowns are being relaxed for work should not give you a false sense of security. We are not even close to winning the war on COVID. On the contrary, in Sri Lanka we see numbers steadily rising. The virus is still out there are asymptomatic carriers can be anywhere.

A pandemic in its very nature is not something that can be wrapped up in a matter of months after which we return to the life we had. Even at our most optimistic, it will take the next six months to start returning to a sense of normalcy. Realistically that could stretch out to a year or two. Even when we do reach that stage, there are some things that will never go back to ‘normal.’

Accepting these admittedly harsh truths and adapting to this, is learning to live with our new normal. We’ve been in a state of complete lockdown for two months, a necessity that allowed the healthcare system to prepare and avoid being overwhelmed. However it is not sustainable long term. So we return to work, to essentials, but cautiously.

The most important thing to internalize is that social distancing is here to stay. Be responsible. This is not a matter of you being able to get away with rules, as you most likely be able t. But should you want to? Social distancing is to protect you, your loved ones, and your community. Use the relaxed curfews for work and leaving your homes in the manner dictated by the government systems to get essentials such as food and medicine. That is all.

This means you cannot return to visiting family and friends, gathering for dinners & social occasions as yet.  Keep your bubbles close. The fewer contacts you have means the fewer people can be infected by you or vice versa. If we adopt this mindset, if we all remain responsible, we win half the battle and give your frontline workers time to fight the other half.

So what does applying this mindset at the workplace mean in a practical sense? Let’s break it down.

  • If you are able to do so arrange with your workplaces to keep working from home. As a matter of protocol most workplaces are in plans to only have skeletal essential staff come in, in staggered shifts to achieve an optimal of 1/3rd staff in their buildings at all times. This will solve both the dilemma of transport and maintaining social distancing at the workplace. So if your responsibilities can be carried out from home with occasional visits to the office as part of staggered shifts, request/volunteer for this.
  • If you or your family members are in high risk groups (suffering from chronic diseases or immunocompromised) working from home would be ideal, if possible.
  • At work, maintain social distancing i.e a distance of 1-2 meters from co-workers at all times. Remember this applies to your break times as well. The virus is not on a lunch break just because you are!
  • Keep your mask on at all times at work. If you are wearing surgical masks, the colored surface faces outwards. Do NOT touch the outside surface of your mask and if you do, immediately wash your hands thoroughly. Do not fiddle with your mask and if you have to take it off, make sure the mask’s outer contaminated surface doesn’t touch others, public surfaces etc.
  • Do not touch your face with your hands and maintain good hand hygiene, which includes frequent hand washing (remember this only counts if washed with soap and water for 20s!)
  • try to avoid touching public surfaces with your hands, for eg; handrails on stairs, elevator buttons (use your elbows instead), door handles (push with elbows or hip instead)
  • clean your work surfaces thoroughly before use (your keyboard, mouse, phones, and desk.)
  • Avoid sharing items such as pens etc at the workplace.  
  • On the topic of clothing and accessories, remember anything extra you take out of the home is something extra to be disinfected when you get back. Do yourself a favor and minimize.
  • Avoid all jewelry (rings, bracelets) and as most of us have our phones glued to our sides, you can even keep your watch at home. A good rule of thumb is to have your arms from your elbows down bare so as to be easily washed thoroughly and frequently.  Avoid ties and sarees and other clothes that can swipe up against surfaces without your knowledge. Tie your hair back.
  • Do not bring/take unnecessary items to/from home and office. Do you honestly need that entire wallet or handbag? Will you spend half an hour cleaning every item when you get home daily? Carry only your money, necessary cards, ID back and forth. If you do have to take things home, such as a laptop for example, remember to disinfect it. The virus has been found to be able to live on various material for varying periods so do not take chances.
  • If you are sick even with the mildest of sniffles STAY HOME. This is the biggest favor you can do for your workplace.
  • When you get home, remove shoes outside.
  • Go straight to a bathroom, all clothing should be washed immediately and bathe completely.
  • Do NOT forget to disinfect the small things. Your glasses, your keys, your cards and most importantly your phone.

These may seem overwhelming, but we are resilient and we can adapt to this new normal. Remember, the more you adhere to the safety precautions and the more responsible you are, the more you protect yourself and your loved ones and the more support you show to our frontlines.

Every single one of you is in your own way a fighter and we appreciate the sacrifices you make. Thank you and stay safe!

Dr. Heba Husain
Medical Officer