The news has been gradually getting worse over the past month and yesterday the World Health Organisation officially declared that the worlds is now in the grip of a Coronavirus pandemic.
With at least 4,600 people having now died from Covid 19 and more than 126,000 infected globally (the true figures of infected could be as much as ten times higher), the pressure is mounting on our professional leaders to take decisive action in protecting both our clients and workers from this deadly virus.
But sadly, as of today, guidance on what to do has been lacking on a national and international level. In England, BASW have copied and pasted government information in a what appears to be a hastily drafted statement (that was only released yesterday) and Social Work England have given a generic statement that similarly suggests following government advice. These organisations aren’t wrong, but we needed far more leadership and support at this time of great need. The least I’d have hoped for was some advice that was specific to the complex and demanding nature of our client-facing profession.
On a local level, approaches have varied from agency to agency. Some departments have applied working from home policies, others have been screening all clients and some have issues testing kits. Many more have done nothing but offer generic advice to ‘wash your hands’ and follow standard government advice on the matter.
In an effort to take things into our own (clean) hands, I asked the SWT community to share their agency policies last night. I had over 500 responses and have used these as the basis for the following five steps social workers should take to prevent the spread of Coronavirus Covid 19. You can head over to my Facebook page to read all of the responses to the original thread.
Coronavirus is predominantly spread by liquid droplets of saliva and mucus. As well as being passed directly from person to person, the virus can live for around 48 hours on hard surfaces such as laptops (nightmare for those of us hotdesking) and door handles. To reduce infection, the key piece of advice is to wash your hands more frequently and for 20 seconds each time. We should also avoid touching our faces as this is a key means of the virus entering our system from surfaces.
Medical experts are now advising that you must stay at home for 7 days if you have either:
Yes, you might be late with those reports or have to cancel a load of meetings, but you really need to be putting the needs of yourself, your colleagues and your clients above those performance targets.
New NHS guidance is that you do not need to contact any health services to tell them you’re staying at home, but you should seek medical advice if:
If you have a home working policy, there has never been a better time to use it than right now.
Let your manager know that you want to work from home more regularly, re-route your desk call to your mobile, plan your visits and meetings (if they aren’t cancelled) in blocks and spend all of the time you would be in the office at your home.
It can take up to 14 days for symptoms of Coronavirus to appear, and this is the reason why this pandemic is expected to get far worse before the month is out.
The main symptoms of infection are:
Best practice at this time should see you calling ahead to clients and asking if they have any such symptoms. It will take you two minutes to do and could possibly save someone’s life.
Priorities in social work change minute by minute. You walk into the office at 8am planning on spending your whole day typing up an assessment… you’re in a foster home at 8pm having just spent your afternoon and evening placing a child in care.
However, at times like this, it’s really important to think about those life-threatening situations that need you more than anyone elese and start prioritising need, risk and urgency.
Is anyone on your caseload elderly or isolated?
Is anyone suffering extreme poverty?
Are any of your families reliant upon food banks?
It’s a brutal thing to have to consider, but we may very well be facing the prospect of having to triage calls and only responding to extreme needs and risks for the foreseeable future. It’s best to face that uncomfortable truth now and start planning for the worse, but hoping for the best.