cold and flu season during the pandemic: tips to stay safe at work.

We’re headed into the cold and flu season once again, but this year, we’re faced with the added complication of fighting off seasonal colds and ailments during a pandemic. This two-pronged health concern gives us one more thing to be concerned about as we go to work each day.

According to Workplace Safety and Prevention Services:

  • 1 in 3 Canadians have a sore throat, cold or flu in any given month
  • 1 in 5 Canadian adults ignore symptoms
  • Many go to work, despite being sick

During a pandemic, these stats should be very troubling. COVID-19 and the flu are very similar. They are both respiratory illnesses and share many of the same symptoms. But there are some common health and safety precautions we can all take to limit our exposure and reduce the odds of getting the flu or COVID-19.

Use these tips to stay safe at work during the cold and flu season this year.

cold and flu season: staying safe at work during a pandemic

get the seasonal flu shot

The flu virus mutates each year. Flu shots are updated annually to protect you against the worst strains. Getting a flu shot annually will make it less likely you will catch a common flu strain. While getting a flu shot won’t directly protect you from COVID-19, it will protect you from flu strains which could weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to COVID-19. Scientists are also working on vaccinations for COVID-19, with some promising results from companies like Pfizer. If and when a safe and effective vaccine is available, be prepared to get that as well.

wear a mask and protective equipment

Most indoor, enclosed workplaces have a mask-wearing policy in place to reduce the risk of workers transmitting the virus to one another. Provincial governments have created strict guidelines and regulations for employers to follow to keep their employees safe. Follow all the guidelines and protocols in place to protect you. We know it’s not fun to wear a mask whenever you’re interacting with someone but it could mean the difference between one person in your workplace getting sick and everyone getting sick. The same goes for face shields, gloves, coats and any other protective gear. Wear it, and keep everyone else in your workplace accountable, too.

if you experience any symptoms, take precautions

One of the tricky things about the flu season amid the pandemic is that the common cold and flu share similar symptoms with COVID-19. That can make it difficult to assess whether you have COVID-19 without a test. Even common flu and cold symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, or sore throat can be more serious than you realize. If you have any symptoms that have been commonly associated with COVID-19, take precautions and alert your employer about your symptoms. Most employers will have policies in place to handle a potential COVID-19 case. Most likely, you will be asked to stay home and call your doctor or take a COVID-19 test before you will be cleared to return to work. 

be diligent with hand washing

The actions you take each day can have a big impact on the spread of germs and viruses like COVID-19. Make an extra effort to wash your hands and sanitize as much as possible when you’re at work. Wash your hands after interacting with others, when using shared spaces, after using the washroom, and any other time when it’s appropriate to do so. Also, make sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds and use hot water and soap to ensure you kill the virus. Hand sanitizer is useful to have in a pinch, but it’s not a replacement for proper handwashing.

keep your workspace clean at all times

Sanitizing work surfaces is important to prevent the spread of viruses which can live on many surfaces for hours or even days. Though COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through airborne particles, it’s wise to be mindful of high touch surfaces you interact with often such as your desk or work station, especially when you’re working indoors. Make an effort to keep your workspace surfaces clean and free of unnecessary items. Sanitize them regularly throughout the day. Many workplaces are offering workers cleaning and sanitization kits to ensure employees have the tools to keep their workspace clean, or increasing the frequency of cleaning staff. 

avoid unnecessary interactions

Physical distancing and wearing a mask may be inconvenient, but they are very important. Limit your interactions with others and always wear a mask when in close contact with others outside of your household. Skip the handshakes. Have video conferences or phone calls instead of face-to-face meetings. If at all possible, work remotely. If that’s not realistic for your job, keep your distance at work and limit meetings and gatherings to only essential personnel. Stay 6 feet apart in all common areas and respect barriers and floor markings installed by your employer to indicate proper physical distancing.

make your health a priority

A strong immune system is key to fighting off the flu, colds, COVID-19, and other potential health issues. You can do this by eating a well-balanced diet, drinking enough water, getting enough rest, and exercising regularly. Take steps to reduce stress in your life. We’re all more stressed out than usual due to the pandemic. So it’s really important that you listen to your body and take care of yourself. Also, don’t forget about your mental health. Make sure to schedule time to indulge in activities that relieve your stress and allow you to take mental breaks from thinking about the pandemic.

remember the rules are in place for a reason

We know it may seem unfair to have to completely overhaul your work life to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But employers put health and safety policies in place for a reason. Though COVID-19 can be mild for some, for others it’s a deadly and debilitating disease with long-term health conditions. Think about the most vulnerable people in your life. Taking extra precautions is not just about protecting yourself, but everyone around you. While you may be fine if you catch COVID-19, your elderly grandma, asthmatic brother or dad who had a heart attack may not be. So even when the rules about distancing seem annoying or over-the-top, remember you’re making sacrifices to protect everyone you care about.

 

Being extra diligent this year is imperative. Take additional precautions to limit your exposure to COVID and the flu. Wash your hands, wear your mask, follow health protocols, and socially distance. If we all do our part, we can greatly reduce the spread.

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