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Returning To Work Post-COVID? What To Do And What To Avoid

India has reported more than 30 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started last year. The United States is the only country in the world that has reported more cases than India.

A highly contagious variant of the coronavirus known as the Delta variant was first reported in India and is reportedly partially responsible for the rapid rise in cases and may even trigger the third wave.

Government officials, epidemiologists and other health experts say a third wave is inevitable, and some predict it could hit India by October; however, the Govt. and health experts believe that the third wave will be better controlled [1].

Several organisations in India have reponed their offices, with most working with 50 per cent capacity or giving the employees a rotating schedule to prevent (or reduce) the risk of contracting the COVID-19 infection.

While many companies in India are looking to adopt a hybrid model as an alternative to working from home and working in an office, a model wherein around 60 per cent of the employees would come together in the office a few days every week, another 20 per cent would work at new office locations, and the remaining 20 per cent would work-from-home, for some, that may not be feasible because of the need for face-to-face interactions [2].

As going back to the office is unavoidable for many of us, here are some safety protocols and tips for returning to work in the post-pandemic world.

Tips For People Returning To Office Post-COVID

1. Wash your hands: Wash your hands with soap and water as frequently as possible for at least 20-30 seconds. Although surface transmission is more minimal than direct contact, you can still spread the coronavirus by touching a contaminated surface, then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose [3].

2. Wear a mask, double mask if necessary: The CDC announced that masks are not needed if you've been fully vaccinated but later on, WHO added that people should continue wearing masks due to the mutating variants, even if they are fully vaccinated [4][5]. While the differing statements from these health bodies can be confusing, the safe bet is to wear a mask. Always keep one or two extra masks in your bag and office desk to be on the safer side. Apart from being a COVID-19 safety measure, wearing a mask at times is basically good for your health and the ones around you as you are at a reduced risk of contracting illness by breathing in pollutants, and also less risk of spreading communicable illnesses, if any, to others [6].

Masks 101: The Dos And Don'ts Of Wearing A Face Mask

3. Sanitise your workspace: The next important step in getting back to the office is sanitising your work area. Wipe down your desk using alcohol wipes or disinfectants to kill any traces of the virus on surfaces [7].

4. Avoid crowds: Whenever possible, avoid crowds; don't spend too much time at the coffee machine or the water dispenser. Physical distancing and avoiding large crowds are something you might want to do, especially if you have unvaccinated and older people at home [8].

5. Set boundaries: Meeting your colleagues after a year can be rather exciting, which can naturally result in tight hugs, high fives and shake hands - let us stop you right there! In the post-pandemic world, it is completely okay to NO. If you are feeling uncomfortable, do tell the other person the same and explain how you feel about it, rather than judging anyone. Better and open communication can help both parties.

Mask Mouth: How Face Masks Are Affecting Oral Health And How You Can Prevent It

6. Check the office safety protocols: Before going back to the office, check with HR regarding the safety protocols and measures that will be adopted by the office authorities to ensure a safe working environment. If your employer is not implementing any safety procedures, speak up.

7. Take your time: Getting back to the work environment after what feels like an eternity can be overwhelming. Psychologists advise that having some anxiety is normal while you take time to readjust to what life was like before. This fear and anxiety will take time to subside and, in the meantime, talk to a therapist or do mindfulness to ease your mind and gain control of your thoughts [9]. Just take one thing at a time.

8. Get help: As mentioned before, getting help when you feel overwhelmed is the right way to deal with it. After a traumatic year, some of us are feeling re-traumatised by the fact that we have to go back to work. All these changes may cause one to feel powerless, increasing the risk for developing a trauma-related disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) [10]. If you feel that your or anyone you know shows signs such as not being able to work or complete school tasks, having trouble getting out of bed, having difficulty caring for yourself, experiencing an increase in substance use or misuse etc., get help. Early intervention is best when it comes to mental health and aiding post-traumatic growth.

On A Final Note...

The Head of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Dr Samiran Panda, said that there is a possibility that 3rd wave of COVID 19 can hit India by August-end, but it can be avoided.

Story first published: Friday, July 23, 2021, 11:02 [IST]
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