Apr 14, 2020
By Filomena Tavares

COVID-19: a new normal that’s about social responsibility

iStock.com/Kerkez

Take away messages:

  • A new normal emerged in hospitals, medical clinics and long-term care facilities following the 2003 SARS outbreak. The COVID-19 pandemic will also introduce new norms for the measures that society is willing to take to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Increased social responsibility may be the solution to curbing the threat of future pandemics - such as a global antibiotic resistant microbe outbreak.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic should make policy makers and key decision-makers rethink their infection prevention and control protocols in the workplace and in schools.

This article is my response to the current COVID-19 situation and the emergence of new social norms.

Our current way of life has been disrupted, in an effort to control the spread of COVID-19. Stay home, work from home, don’t gather with others, and maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from others if outside the home—all are methods of social distancing, which have become the main tool in reducing transmission. How long will this situation last? No one can say for sure. Will it be weeks or months?

Is this behaviour sustainable? The obvious answer is no. We are social beings, we need to work, and kids need to go to school. And we will socialize once again, work outside of our homes again, and send our kids to school. But something will definitely change.

The power of social responsibility

We can’t underestimate the power of social responsibility in drastically reducing the spread of COVID-19, and we need everyone onboard for it to work. Change is happening in the mindset of many, as we come to recognize the role our actions play in helping to contain COVID-19.

We saw the new normal in hospitals and medical clinics following the SARS outbreak: large STOP signs, screening for cough, fever, and travel, and a supply of masks to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets. Hand sanitizer is readily available at any doctor’s office and hospital. Ebola also reinforced these practices, and screening expanded to include travel in Africa or other affected areas.

Disconcertingly, there hasn’t been any change to the infection prevention and control protocols in schools. None. Schools have not implemented any additional infection control protocols following SARS. Why not?

We can’t underestimate the power of social responsibility in drastically reducing the spread of COVID-19, and we need everyone onboard for it to work.

I had written a letter to the Medical Officer of Health in my school district as a concerned parent, following the many infections my children had contracted while at school, some having resulted in more serious consequences. His response to my valid concern was that it was not within their jurisdiction—that it is up to the Board of Education to implement infection control protocols within schools.

Preventive health care?

Public health is concerned mainly with the vaccination program and tracking of reportable diseases, such as measles. Public health measures include health promotion information on proper handwashing, healthy eating, and general information on agency websites regarding keeping children home from school when they are infectious. There really isn’t any direct involvement from health departments, just information or health education.

We know these strategies don’t work. That is why smoking by-laws needed to be imposed in public places. There are no proactive infection control protocols within schools other than mandatory vaccination. COVID-19 has proven that there is more to managing the preventive health care of our children than vaccination, and I do agree that vaccination is critical.

We all are currently experiencing social change growing pains as a result of COVID-19. What this means is that we will no longer send our children to school sick, even if it is “just” a runny nose. (Fact: this is when we are most infectious.)

Our employers will have policies in place that support staying home from work when we are sick or caring for sick children who are home from school. The pace will slow down somewhat. We will have a better work–life balance, and health will be promoted in school, at work, and in social environments that are conducive to staying healthy.

I believe that our government and public health officials will work more closely at ensuring that the health and wellness of individuals is supported through healthy policy implementation, and that work and school environments are conducive to health promotion.

Ultimately, there will be greater focus on illness prevention. Individually, we will be more aware of our own behaviours around hand washing, respiratory etiquette, and maintaining social distance when we or someone in our household is sick.

Antibiotic resistance

These measures will benefit everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable. They will also benefit the medical system by controlling the number of people being treated for both viral and bacterial infections. This, in turn, will reduce the use of antibiotics.

Out of this COVID-19 pandemic, a new normal will emerge, one with a strong emphasis on social responsibility.

The World Health Organization, during its 2015 world conference on antibiotic-resistant bacteria, stated that antibiotic resistance will be the biggest threat facing humanity in the near future: “Without urgent action, we are heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill” (WHO, 2018). The rapid spread of COVID-19 is evidence of the rise in, and ease of, global travel. “Given the ease and frequency with which people now travel, antibiotic resistance is a global problem, requiring efforts from all nations and many sectors” (WHO, 2018).

The “new normal”

Out of this COVID-19 pandemic, a new normal will emerge, one with a strong emphasis on social responsibility. The current methods to reduce transmission are stay at home, work from home, don’t gather in groups, and maintain a distance of at least 2 metres from others if outdoors. These measures will have long-term effects on how we interact with one another on a day-to-day basis.

I believe the current COVID-19 pandemic is preparing us for what is to come in regard to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and to reduce the likelihood of another global pandemic. Perhaps this will help humanity in the long run. Being socially responsible means we all need to do our part, that each one of us can make a difference.

I believe that COVID-19 has emphasized the power of social responsibility, from individuals as well as community leaders. In the near future, policymakers will implement infection prevention and control policies within workplaces and schools that ensure sick individuals stay home when sick, while receiving the financial support they need.

This pandemic is reminding us that our health is most important, and our new social norms will reflect that. In regard to the grave threat of antibiotic resistance, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, addressing G7 nations at the WHO’s antimicrobial resistance meeting in 2015, remarked, “Consumer groups and civil society can play an important role in combating antimicrobial resistance. They are important movers, shakers, and front-line players, especially in this age of social media.”

I believe we will emerge from this current crisis with more appreciation and empathy toward one another. I am optimistic that our new normal will be a better world for everyone. I see a future that is strongly founded on social responsibility and the value of the health and wellness of every human being.

References

World Health Organization (WHO). (2015). WHO G7 Ministers Meeting on Antimicrobial Resistance.

World Health Organization (WHO). 2018. Antibiotic Resistance.

Filomena Tavares, RN, BScN, who is the mother of two amazing kids, graduated in 1998 from the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto, and is currently practicing hospice nursing.

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