The figures are worrying.
Since early August, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been going up steadily across Canada. The latest provincial and territorial data indicates that the fourth wave that we’ve been expecting this Fall has officially begun.
So, what’s to be expected this time?
Though we face the highly infectious Delta variant this time (that forms majority of the current cases), some key figures are on our side as well.
Mixing vaccines to ramp up vaccination rates over summer has paid off. Canada boasts of a high vaccination rate that is still on an upward trend. As of September 12, 2021, 85.437% of people in the country older than age 12 have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 78.426% (of those 12+) are now fully vaccinated.
Given this positive trend and the extremely low rate of infection among the fully vaccinated (0.04% from December 14, 2020, to August 14, 2021), any further lockdowns seem unlikely.
The fourth wave has been touted as largely being the pandemic of the unvaccinated. That may be true. Data shows that most recent hospitalizations and deaths have been among the unvaccinated.
But if the vaccination rate continues to grow, we can hope to make it through this wave without overburdening our healthcare system like in previous waves.
What steps can I take to protect my business and staff during the fourth wave?
There is no doubt that news of yet another wave and of newer variants of concern on the horizon is upsetting. But if we look at pandemics of the past, subsequent smaller waves have been part of their life cycles as well.
More importantly, this time we are much better prepared. We know a lot more about SARS-CoV-2 today than we did 18 months and three waves ago. There are free vaccines available that offer maximum protection against severe illness from COVID-19.
To keep your business safe and open this Fall, we recommend that employers be pro-active when it comes to:
Following public health measures
Keep track of and ensure compliance with the latest public health guidance and regulations. Review the health and safety measures in your workplace and assess any scope for improvement.
Ensure your employees are following safety measures, such as masking, physical distancing, proper use of PPE and hand and respiratory hygiene.
Train your staff on any new workplace health and safety measures. Employees who can continue working from home, should be encouraged to do so.
Make sure you have relevant COVID-19 policies, such as policies on vaccination, contact tracing, recalling staff, travel, response procedures in case an employee tests positive.
The federal government and most provinces are offering free rapid testing kits to businesses as an additional screening tool. You may want to make use of such resources.
Encouraging vaccines in the workplace
Given how infectious the Delta variant could be (as contagious as chickenpox according to CDC), being fully vaccinated is our best defence to avoid serious illness and hospitalization.
However, you can (and should) actively encourage and educate your vaccine-hesitant staff on the benefits of getting vaccinated. You may also want to host an onsite vaccination clinic. For instance, Toronto Public Health has invited employers to apply to host a vaccination clinic onsite.
It is also a good practice to have a policy on managing vaccinations (storing proof, paid time off, medical exemptions) in the workplace. Ontario cities, such as Toronto and Hamilton, have strongly recommended a vaccination policy for local employers.
Peninsula’s VaccTrak is an excellent digital tool that makes it quick and convenient to track the progress of vaccinations in the workplace. You can read more about VaccTrak here.
Providing mental health support to staff
Long-term stress and anxiety can affect the wellbeing of your staff, and ultimately their productivity. It is important that you connect your staff to the mental health resources available in your province (Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta).
If you don’t offer one already, get an employee assistance program (EAP). An EAP provides confidential counselling services to employees who may be experiencing personal difficulties, such as mental health issues, domestic violence, substance abuse.
Be kind when considering remote work requests due to valid reasons, such as a medical condition, childcare, or caregiving responsibilities. If you are already managing a hybrid workforce, take steps to stay connected to home-based workers, especially those who live alone. This could be done through weekly virtual meetings and occasional in-person socials.
Do you need help creating health and safety policies for the pandemic?
Our experts can help you create COVID-19 policies on health and safety and HR. We’ll also save you time and hassle by tracking changing legislations and guidelines and keeping you posted. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.