Here is an unfortunate truth: COVID-19 is back! With new daily cases dropping to single digits, deaths becoming zero, and staying zero for months, and vaccination numbers rising, it seemed like we had finally defeated the coronavirus for good. But apparently, we were wrong. So, what does this mean? Well, for starters, it means that we might see a fourth wave of the pandemic in the country. And second, it means that we have to adopt precautions, such as masking up and avoiding large gatherings, again.
But this might be easier said than done. Because the virus disappeared for nearly a year after its Omicron variant-driven surge subsided, people have forgotten how serious it was and how seriously we need to take it. Nobody wears masks anymore, even in public, and compulsive hand washing and sanitising have become the exception rather than the norm again. We have reverted to our pre-pandemic ways, which was okay when the number of active cases was low, but now that the infection, hospitalisation and death rates have all started increasing again, we need to get our guards up. Otherwise, the government might need to step in and enforce restrictions which would cause great pain and loss to everyone involved.
Don’t we remember how hard the various lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were? It decimated livelihoods, pushed many into poverty and starvation and caused huge damage to the national economy. We can never go back to that but at the same time, we also have to keep ourselves and our families safe.
So, what can we do? Test, isolate and trace.
We must treat all symptoms as possible COVID and get tested as soon as possible. If we test positive for this viral disease, we must isolate. This, admittedly, is easier said than done but we must do all we can to prevent spreading the infection to others. Then, we must know everyone who is in contact with us. COVID does not carry the same stigma it did back at the start of the pandemic so we must not hesitate to inform our associates of our condition. This will allow them to be on the lookout and get tested if they display any suspicious symptoms.
Concerning isolation, we get another question: For how long? Ideally, we should isolate until we test negative. But this is not possible in all cases. Some people keep testing positive for weeks and months and if they are forced to quarantine for all that time, that will dissuade others from getting tested at all if they have symptoms.
The next best thing would be to stay separate for 14 days. But even that may not be possible because, in the “calmer” months, many workplaces repealed their COVID leave policies and now, do not allow their employees to miss two straight weeks of work without pay deductions or penalties.
So, the most pragmatic way to go about things would be to stay in strict isolation until the symptoms are gone, then get tested and leave home if medical personnel determine that we do not pose a risk of infecting others.
But all this is after we get sick. What should we do to prevent illness in the first place? The same thing that we have always been asked to do – wear masks and clean our hands. Masking works, there is no doubt about that at this point in the pandemic. We should all wear masks, cover our noses and mouths, and maintain at least some distance from others. Cleaning our hands is also the same thing. Wash hands with soap and water or disinfect with sanitisers. Minimise physical contact with others and clean frequently-touched surfaces.
When indoors, we must keep all the windows open to ensure adequate ventilation – again, not something we have not been asked to do before. Where ventilation is not possible, air filtration systems may work too. The aim is to deliver clean air to people in the room or floor and reduce airborne contaminants and mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can help do that when used properly. If none of this is possible in the place you work or live then perhaps, it is time to seek better options.
Meanwhile, as we continue to take all these precautions, we must also get vaccinated and encourage others to do the same. COVID-19 jabs are easily available and a plethora of research works have verified their safety for both adults and children. Moreover, they have also been shown to prevent serious illness and death. So, there is no reason not to get vaccinated.