Socializing with colleagues and keeping it safe

Fatna Hamdi (left) and Melanie Hansma, both Respiratory Therapists at the JGH, relax on opposite sides of a plexiglass barrier in their staff lounge
Fatna Hamdi (left) and Melanie Hansma, both Respiratory Therapists at the JGH, relax on opposite sides of a plexiglass barrier in their staff lounge

A CIUSSS expert shares tips on ways to mingle without spreading the coronavirus.

The arrival of cold weather means we’re taking most of our breaks and meals indoors. How can we share downtime with our colleagues, without sharing COVID-19?

Indoor gatherings are prime places to spread the coronavirus. So our CIUSSS is reminding staff not to let down their guard in lounges and eating areas. With the holidays approaching, COVID-19 isn’t a gift you want to give.

“We all need to relax and be among friends, but we want to encourage everyone to adopt good practices to keep as safe as possible,” says Stéfanie Brisson, our CIUSSS’s Chief of Occupational Health, Safety and Well-being in the Workplace – Prevention Component.

Across our network’s sites, departments are finding creative ways to help co-workers relax safely in their lounges. Some have removed chairs or marked the floor with an X to ensure that staff respect two-metre (six-foot) distancing rules. In the Respiratory Therapy lounge room at the Jewish General Hospital, managers put up a plexiglass barrier between two armchairs, allowing co-workers to sit side-by-side to enjoy conversations. The department also refurbished three plexiglass intubation boxes—normally used for critical-care patients—to create individual mealtime cubicles.

Angie Spiropoulos, Chief of Respiratory Therapy at the JGH, at one of her lounge’s plexiglass mealtime cubicles
Angie Spiropoulos, Chief of Respiratory Therapy at the JGH, at one of her lounge’s plexiglass mealtime cubicles

“This is a close-knit department whose staff members work together hand in hand,” says Angie Spiropoulos, Chief of Respiratory Therapy at the JGH. “We want to continue to decompress together and socialize safely.”

Overall, staff are encouraged to always wear a mask and physically distance, even when joining others for a quick coffee, a snack, or an informal chat. For everyone eager to enjoy their colleagues’ company without putting themselves and others at risk, here are some tips from Dr. Leighanne Parkes, infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the JGH.

Dr. Leighanne Parkes, infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the JGH
Dr. Leighanne Parkes, infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at the JGH

Understand the virus. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread through large respiratory droplets. “Whenever we do any type of manoeuvre—like breathing, coughing, sneezing, singing, talking—it creates droplets of some sort,” Dr. Parkes says. “If you are infected with COVID-19, the virus can be packaged in those tiny droplets, and can spread around you.” These droplets spread more easily indoors. “It can contaminate your environment in a sphere in front of your face, and it can contaminate a person who’s within that space, particularly if that person isn’t covering their nose, mouth and eyes.”

Speak up. Everyone needs a reminder about best practices now and then. “Remind me when I’m doing something wrong,” Dr. Parkes says. “Sometimes we just need someone around us to say, ‘Hey, your mask isn’t on properly’, or ‘You should have your mask on in this situation.’ It’s great to take ownership to protect everyone.”

Don’t break the bubble. Think of your safety bubble as your private hamster wheel. “You have this invisible force field around you that prevents other people from getting into your space and from you emerging into their space,” says Dr. Parkes. “If we visualize and maintain that, then we can’t individually infect another person and they cannot individually infect us.”

Fight pandemic fatigue. Healthcare staff have it tough. Due to the nature of their jobs, they don’t have the luxury of isolating at home during the pandemic. “We’re exposed through our work to people who are more likely to have COVID-19,” says Dr. Parkes. “So we’re constantly being exposed to the virus in the community, as well as in the hospital.”

Resist the urge to ease up on your vigilance, even when you step away from your work duties. “It’s super-hard during your break, when you’ve been ‘on’ all that time, to have to continue to think about how to best protect yourself,” Dr. Parkes says. “But it’s really important not to let go of that awareness.” We all need a break, but the virus isn’t taking one.

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