Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. While the coronavirus pandemic has promoted remote working, many employees are still working on site.
Employees have been subdivided into three groups, namely those that are working remotely, those that are no longer working and those that are actually working on-site during the pandemic. To those who are working on-site, it has been a stressful time not only for the employee but also for the employer. Currently, employers are dealing with cases of employees who have tested positive to the coronavirus. The moment calls for sensitivity and humanity, but it also requires management to act swiftly to minimise the risk of the disease spreading at the workplace.
When an employee is confirmed to be Covid-19 positive, employers should inform co-employees of their possible exposure but maintain confidentiality. This situation can be stressful and overwhelming and becomes important that the leader supports the employees as they take the necessary steps to keep the workplace safe and healthy. Even if the employee’s symptoms are mild, they are likely to be anxious about what might happen or whether they might have spread the virus to their family or co-workers. It is good for the employee to share their feelings. As you talk to them, clearly communicate that they can count on you and the team.
The moment someone tests positive to Covid-19, the Ministry of Health and Child Care gives guidance. Close contacts of the person are required to stay home and self-isolate until they are cleared of the virus in order to stop it from spreading further.
Infected people should assist in the provision of information of their close contacts, including colleagues, customers, visitors, friends and family. It is essential to inform co-workers who would have had close contact with the infected employee about their potential exposure to Covid-19.
With regards to Covid-19, a close contact is defined as any individual who was within two meters of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days before illness onset (or for asymptomatic persons, two days prior to a positive test).
Those who were in close contact must quarantine for 14 days and self-monitor their symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell and a sore throat. Symptomatic employees should not return to work until they are cleared by medical personnel.
If an employee or another person who would have visited the work station tests positive for coronavirus, the employer should immediately close the work premises until it is thoroughly disinfected. Based on the size of the workplace, it is essential to coordinate with employees to work remotely if possible. There is need to perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after persons suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19 have been in a facility. Focus should be on frequently touched surfaces. The employer can only reopen the work premises after all other employees who were in contact with the infected employee have been tested for the coronavirus.
To determine when it is safe for an infected employee to return to work, the following two strategies have been used. For people who have symptoms, use the symptom-based strategy. One is excluded from work until the fever has resolved for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications. Other symptoms (like cough or shortness of breath) must have improved and at least 10 days should have passed since symptoms first appeared.
The other strategy is test-based. The test may be taken if there is a resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications. This can also be applied where there is an improvement in symptoms (for example cough, shortness of breath) and if results are negative from at least two consecutive tests.
It is helpful for the employer or human resource department to check in on the employee infected by the coronavirus as well as their close contacts. This kind gesture is appreciated as it increases an employee’s sense of belonging.
Employers must continue to follow the evolving advice coming from the World Health Organisation and the Ministry of Health and Child Care. Remember, It takes leadership to improve safety – Jackie Stewar.
Greta C Mauwa is a Community Psychologist intern. She writes in her personal capacity