The latest figures show a continued increase in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19, but should we be worried?
On 15 July 2022, the UK average number of cases per day (measured over 7 days) stood at 27599. This was a whopping 32% increase on the average for the previous week.
On the other hand, data specifically for Scotland, which comes from PHS COVID-19 Daily Dashboard, (for 13 July) shows a 9.5% fall in the number of new cases. However, according to the ONS, the infection rate in Scotland is currently higher at 1 in 16 people than it is in the other nations (which range from 1 in 17 to 1 in 19).
Interestingly, the PHS data also shows a 20% reinfection rate, reaffirming fears about the ability of new variants to evade immunity from previous infections and vaccines.
But at present, there is no suggestion that the current wave of infection is leading to worsening health outcomes. Indeed, while hospital admissions of those with COVID-19 have increased recently, there has only been a tiny increase in ICU admissions. Also, the new sub-variants of Omicron appear no more severe than the earlier Omicron variant.
That said, some people are at considerably higher risk to the virus than others. As such, any response to the increasing spread of COVID-19 must consider how we protect this particular risk group. As with all hazards, a risk assessment should be your starting point. But with no legal requirement to take measures to prevent COVID spread, what should we do?
Any organisation can set its own house rules, based upon the findings of its risk assessment. So you can still insist on physical distancing, hand sanitiser and the use of face coverings.
But reconciling such procedures when most people are used to living without restrictions could cause some issues with compliance. How then, do we keep the workplace COVID-free when we aren’t working with anyone at high risk?
Firstly, improve the ventilation in your workplaces. In summer opening windows is a great help, but think ahead to colder times. Look therefore at how you can make changes that will result in better air circulation and filtering on a long-term basis.
Next, speak to your team to see if they can continue working from home. Again, think long-term, so start with a home working agreement that sets out what is required of both the homeworker and the organisation.
Also, introduce a distance-aware scheme to your workplace. In this way, your team members will know to respect the need for two-metre physical distancing from those wearing a distance-aware badge. There are schemes running in Scotland and England.
Finally, consider buying test kits to enable your team members to test regularly; and make sure that anyone who tests positive self-isolates for at least five days (or longer if they still experience symptoms). To discourage people from coming to work, look at how they can be supported financially during any period of isolation.
But whatever action you take, keep COVID-19 on the agenda. Find out the infection rates for your area, discuss the issues with your staff, volunteers and beneficiaries, and seek their views. After all, you want team buy-in to whatever is agreed.
So should we be worried? The latest variant is more infectious, but no more severe than the first Omicron variant. But COVID-19 remains a serious disease that requires serious consideration. Charities and voluntary organisations must ensure their response is both informed and effective.