We’ve been very fortunate in Australia so far to avoid the worst of the pandemic. So much so, all state governments are beginning to loosen their lockdown restrictions. But this risks exposing ourselves to a second wave of the virus.
So how do we avoid the second wave? Is it up to governments, or health authorities, or businesses? No, it’s up to us as individuals. How we behave over the next few weeks and months will determine if we avoid a second wave or not.
Knowledge Is Power
I can’t emphasise this enough. The more you learn about COVID-19 — the more you understand how it works and how it spreads — the better you’ll be able to avoid catching or spreading the virus. Understanding the relative risks of contagion in different settings will become increasingly more critical as lockdown restrictions are eased.
Understanding The Virus
I highly recommend reading this article by Erin Bromage, an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In the article, he gives examples of the most common scenarios for spreading the virus.
Basically, the most common way the virus is spread is person to person — coughing, sneezing, talking, singing — especially in enclosed spaces. That’s why we can’t go to pubs and bars and cinemas and theatres. That’s why cafes and restaurants have been closed for sit-down customers. And it’s why people who can work remotely have been encouraged to do so.
Contrastingly, there’s much less risk of catching the virus when you’re outside, so long as you maintain social distancing. So going for walks and exercising is low risk. That’s why beaches have been open for swimming, surfing and exercising, but not for sunbathing or picnics or socialising.
Then there are the medium-risk scenarios. Places where people congregate, but where there’s enough space to practice social distancing. Supermarkets and shopping malls and places like that. So long as people aren’t queuing up for long periods, shopping isn’t a high-risk activity, but nor is it low-risk.
Look At The Stats
As well as understanding how the virus spreads, it’s also important to know where the virus is spreading.
We’re lucky here in New South Wales because the level of testing being undertaken is amongst the highest in the world. Consequently, there are heaps of stats at our fingertips to help us make risk assessments. For example, there’s the NSW COVID-19 Heat Map that provides details of COVID-19 cases per postcode, including the number of active cases in your neighbourhood.
By looking at the stats every day, you’ll begin to get a feel for how things are going in your neighbourhood and surrounding suburbs, and keep an eye on any new clusters and make changes to your daily routine where necessary.
Understand Good Pandemic Habits
The last vital piece of knowledge to avoiding a second-wave Downunder is to maintain good pandemic habits. We should all know the score by now. Practice social distancing. Don’t touch your face with your hands. Use hand sanitiser when you’re out and about. Wash your hands whenever you come home, and then again throughout the day. Cough into your sleeve. Never go out if you feel sick. And get yourself tested whenever you feel unwell.
Make all of these things habit rather than something we feel obliged to do is another key to avoiding a second-wave of infection.
Daily Risk Assessments
So, as lockdown restrictions are eased, it’s up to all of us to make daily risk assessments and act on those accordingly. These are the decisions we’ll all need to make for the foreseeable future; each and every day.
1 – Am I feeling unwell?
If I’m feeling unwell, or if I’m showing any symptoms — sore throat, runny nose, aches and pains, fatigue — then I’m cancelling all plans, and I’m off to get tested, and then quarantine myself until I get my results back. Simple as that. No exceptions!
But if I’m feeling well…
2 – Have I Checked The Latest Stats And News?
Before I go outside, I make sure I look at the latest stats and read the latest news updates, so that I’m aware of any new clusters or outbreaks. Today as I write this, there were no new cases detected in NSW, no clusters near where I live, and there haven’t been any new cases detected in my part of Sydney for over a month. So my assessment is that it’s a low risk to move around my local suburbs.
3 – Have I Assessed The Risk Of My Planned Activity?
So I feel very comfortable going out for an hours walk every morning to keep fit because I know there are currently only four active cases in my suburb, and I know that exercising outside is a low-risk activity.
But as my local cafes begin opening up again for sit-down customers, I’m less likely to want to eat at a cafe because cafes and restaurants are high-risk environments. I think I’ll keep getting takeaway from my local cafes, as I already have been doing for the past couple of months.
I’ll keep shopping at Woolies, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to shopping malls anytime soon. I know it’s a medium-risk, but I don’t feel comfortable taking that risk. I’ll also catch the bus home from Woolies, even though catching public transport can be a high-risk activity, but I’m on the bus for less than ten minutes, so that mitigates the risk slightly.
And if I usually worked in an office (which I don’t), I don’t think I’d feel comfortable going back to work just yet. And if I was an employer, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable asking my employees to come back into the office just yet either, simply because working in an office is yet another high-risk activity.
4 – Am I Ready To Leave The House?
When I go out for my morning exercise, I take bottled water with me, so I don’t have to use a water fountain when I feel thirsty. Plus I’ve chosen a route to take where I know I won’t be encountering any large crowds, such as Balmoral Beach. But I don’t take any hand sanitizer with me because I’m not going to touch any hard surfaces.
But if I’m going up the shops, then I’ll make sure I pack some hand sanitiser, and I’ll use it both before and after entering any shops. Because I know I’ll be touching things.
Plus, every time I’ll leave the house, I’m mindful of the rules of social distancing; keeping 1.5 metres from other people, not touching my face, and coughing and sneezing into my sleeve.
Finally, I check that my COVIDSAFE App is running. Now I’m ready to go outside.
5 – Am I Prepared To Change My Plans?
Not everything goes the way we expect. We all need to be mindful of what is happening when we’re outside. If you encounter an unexpectedly large number of people at a local beach or shopping centre, be prepared to cancel your plans and go home. Exposing yourself to risk amongst a large crowd isn’t worth the chance.
Likewise, if you start feeling unwell while you’re outside, it’s important to stop what you’re doing and go and get yourself tested. Don’t be the selfish person who puts their own needs ahead of the health and wellbeing of others. Do the right thing!
Don’t expect other people to do the heavy-lifting for you. We all need to do the work. Educate yourself, make daily risk assessments, and make good hygiene practices instinctive. If we don’t, we’ll all be forced to go back into lockdown. And none of us wants that. And having worked through my risk assessment, I’m now confident that I can leave my home in the full knowledge that I’ve done everything I can to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19.