The rumours, facts, and grey areas of the most notorious health emergency in our time
By June Tavenor, Catalyst Health Solutions Inc.
On December 31, 2019, health officials in the province of Wuhan in China reported 44 cases of a “bilateral pneumonia of unknown origin or pathology.” What was happening was the result of a new, or novel, virus. This virus was from an unknown source, was transmitted via unknown mechanisms, and caused a range of disease from mild illness to sepsis and death. This was the day Chinese health officials rang the bell and said: We don’t know what we’re dealing with, but this is new, and we need help. Enter the World Health Organization (WHO). Research is done, experts are consulted, statements are made, one thing leads to another, and as of writing this article we have more than 800,000 confirmed cases worldwide, killing more than 40,000 people in 205 countries. So let’s get down to the consistent truths of the COVID-19 crisis.
What we know
COVID-19 is a member of a broad class of viruses known as coronaviruses. The name comes from the Latin word for crown, corona. This is how the virus looks under a microscope, with all its little proteins and such looking like jewels on a crown. Coronaviruses are responsible for a vast array of illnesses, ranging from the common cold to SARS and now COVID-19. Animals frequently carry a variety of viruses, including coronaviruses, just as humans carry a variety of viruses for different illnesses. What is unusual about COVID-19 (and SARS, and MERS, and avian flu, etc.) is that the virus evolved and made the jump from animal to human. That was animal-to-human transmission. And then it evolved again and figured out how to go from human to human. You guessed it: human-to-human transmission.
I want you to hear me as a mother, a daughter, a sister, a consumer of health care, and an entrepreneur. COVID-19 is not the flu. And the flu is a really big deal. Trust me, I’m a nurse.
COVID-19 is very contagious. The reason for this is that it is transmitted via droplets (ever see a sneeze in a sunbeam?) that can travel up to six feet before they fall to whatever surface is underneath them. That surface could be the floor, your passenger seat, the innocent bystander on the bus/plane, the kitchen counter, the kitchen table. The problem is that once on those surfaces, the virus has been shown to live for five to ten days. With that, I hope you understand the crucial nature of the next section.
What we must do
I was born in 1979. I think I was the last generation to grow up respecting authority because we didn’t know there was an alternative. My father was a firefighter in the St. John’s Regional Fire Department, retiring in 1995 as Deputy Chief. My mission as a child was to make sure I never disappointed this man.
That’s all of us now. We have to act as if there is no alternative to respecting authority. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald is now that authority. In order to make sure we can all rebound on the other side of this thing, we have to do what she says. We all should be terrified to disappoint Dr. Fitzgerald! Let me lay out exactly how to not let Dr. Fitzgerald down.
1. Physical distancing
Physical distancing was initially called social distancing, but then we all remember how much we like interacting with each other! For an extrovert like me, this is the most challenging infection control strategy. I pity the first human I encounter as soon as physical contact is reinstated.
But physical distancing is the most important and impactful strategy with any public health crisis. We are all meant to implement a minimum six-foot physical distance between ourselves and everyone else. How does your business operate? Are you brick and mortar? Few establishments are allowed to operate at this time, but if you do, there are several physical strategies you could implement. These include six-foot markings on the floor as a visual reminder to customers, hand sanitizer stations for patrons, and Plexiglas barriers for employees, to list just a few. I have begun a game with my staff for the most creative way to stay six feet apart as a way to encourage my peeps to maintain the distance. It’s fun, and helps flatten the curve. Win win.
2. Stay at home
I wish I got paid by the number of times my son photobombed my teleconferences. It’s hard, I get it! The main thing for us women entrepreneurs is that we built the home-based business. We come from a long line of women who figured out how to make money from home. Bring it on, social distancing!
Seriously, though, most of us are not that woman anymore. Many of us have had to close up shop because we did have a physical business. Staying at home was forced on us because of the industry we are in. And I will put my public servant hat on here for a minute and say good. Unless you are an essential service, you have to close your doors. Forcing everyone who isn’t a vital contributor in our current scenario to close is the best public health strategy to take.
Now comes the part where we challenge that inner entrepreneur. We have to be creative in how we deliver our services, and I have never been more excited to see what is possible for my industry. I have been spouting off for more than 15 years about what needs to change in how health care is delivered, and COVID-19 is the perfect catalyst for this change. I’ve never been more inspired in my business.
I challenge you, lady. I see you there, with the wheels turning in your head. What could delivering services via technology look like for your company? Think about. It. My business is nursing. I literally have to put hands on people to deliver my service. Or do I? I have been able to pivot my offerings to embrace the pandemic. How? Physical interaction with virtual oversight.
Let me remind you why it’s vital to stay at home unless you have to go for supplies. Remember how this thing lives on surfaces for up to 10 days? You could pick it up off a gas station nozzle: scratch your nose, and the virus enters your body. You use hand sanitizer, but it’s too late – you already scratched your nose. You get home, thinking you did a great job, and kiss your kids. With the virus in your nose. THIS is why staying at home is so important. You have habits. They’re involuntary, but they include scratching your face when it itches, brushing your hair away from your face, and rubbing your eyes when you’re tired. For me, that’s four decades of behaviours that I have to turn off suddenly and over which I have no conscious control. So how do I minimize the chance of encountering the virus? STAY HOME!
Once, I walked into the bathroom to ask my then husband a question while he was in the shower. I couldn’t understand his answer, so I peeked my head around the shower curtain. Remember those old cartoons? Well that was him. There was more bubble than there was man. And I thought to myself, what did he do to get so dirty to have to scrub like that . . . every day?
Turns out my ex-husband has excellent personal hygiene practices. So for him, transitioning to a heightened state of cleanliness has been a cake walk. Me? I’m a health care professional with extensive knowledge of germ theory and infection control procedures. I also just coughed softly to clear my throat and peppered my keyboard with spittle. Life and bodily functions happen, but you need to understand that your hands are the single most effective vector for viruses, but washing your hands (for 20 seconds!) interrupts that transmission.
Getting used to the new norm of washing your hands every 17 minutes has some hacks. Do NOT forget to use moisturizer. Yes, you’re going to wash it off in T-minus 7 minutes, but some moisture will soak in, and that’s important. Dry, sore, cracked skin is an easy way in for viruses, so take care of those mitts! Keep them clean, but keep them healthy too!
Our new reality as entrepreneurs
The great thing about a crisis is that it has an expiry date. God willing, if everyone follows the rules, COVID-19 will also eventually expire and take all her restrictions with her. How each of us delivers our products and/or services will also change in this new world. There will be a post-COVID economy, and we need to be ready for it. There will be new realities that impact how we do business, and we need to prepare for them.
1. On-demand services
On the other side of COVID, our world will have spent an outrageous amount of time online. During this time, the world will have had movies, TV shows, communication with family, and educational resources delivered when and where they wanted. Boom. On demand.
Consumers want it when and where they want it. Technology will fill this void during the COVID crisis. The task of the entrepreneur will be to learn how to integrate their offerings into the technology. We will all have to evolve.
2. Mutual trust
On the other side of a pandemic where we aren’t allowed to be within six feet of each other, we will have a greater trust in one another. For the first time, we will all have been forced to connect without touch, and our intuition and sense of trust will grow from it. We will be forced to read body language without being in the same room, and learn that a (wo)man’s honour really is in their word.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, and St. John’s in particular, 2020 has been a bit of a bust. Honestly, I’ve been waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out from behind any one of the giant snowbanks in town. But that’s where the story grows.
You see, Snowmageddon 2020 and the eventual State of Emergency was a dry run. It was a chance for all of us in town to reevaluate what was important. And to learn the value of helping shovel out the neighbour. It was pretty awesome. Yeah, there were a couple of bad apples, but it eventually worked out. Similarly, the initial scared reactions to be anything but sympathetic to the mourners at Caul’s Funeral Home will fade. And our loving, kind spirit will overshadow any of the hate caused by fear.
As entrepreneurs, we will all have to face this COVID-19 crisis a day at a time. We need to table our individual agendas and focus on the greater good. And if we do it right, with integrity and honesty, we’ll be prepared and poised to grow in the post-COVID-19 economy.
By June Tavenor
June Tavenor, a Registered Nurse from St. John’s, Newfoundland, founded Catalyst Health Solutions as an innovative way to provide access and innovation in health care.
June graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2005 with a Bachelor or Nursing degree and a passion for emergency nursing. She immediately began working at Level One Trauma Centre in downtown Toronto, moving to several other hospitals through a nursing agency.
Upon moving home to Newfoundland in 2010, June was working in the emergency department, while completing her Masters in Nursing from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and continued to work as an Emergency Nurse and as a Nurse Educator before founding Catalyst Health Solutions.
Catalyst brings together June’s passions for advanced health care, patient education, and helping individuals take ownership of their own health care.