Stefanie Valentic
Napoleon (left) and Pickles (right) are Stefanie's coworkers.

Sincerely Stefanie: Stay Safe. Stay Healthy. Remember Self-Care.

March 27, 2020
The bed to the home office is my new commute. Here’s how I’m handling the pandemic.

I tried to avoid writing something about our current situation.

I wanted to act as if it was business as usual. But the fact is, it’s not.

I woke up this morning, and instead of picking out slacks and a shirt, I immediately walked downstairs and turned on my computer.

This will be my new normal for the next few months, and to be frank it’s been hard to get into a regular routine. I find myself scouring social media for breaking news, hoping for the World Health Organization or the U.S. government to give the punchline to some massively-coordinated April Fool’s joke. But, the reality of the situation is that our reality has changed.

Whether you’re working from home, an essential worker on the front line or currently unemployed because of this pandemic, there is no longer a “normal” and we have to adjust to it.

Above all, we have to remember to practice self-care at this time to be able to care for one another and to ensure we all remain safe and healthy. Here is my take on what we’ve I’ve observed:

Respiratory Equipment Shortage

A memorandum on March 11, 2020, from President Donald Trump addressed the shortage of N95 respirators for frontline workers.

“Unfortunately, at present, public health experts anticipate shortages in the supply of personal respiratory devices (respirators) available for use by healthcare workers in mitigating further transmission of COVID-19,” it said.

Companies and individuals with spare respirators could assist healthcare workers at this time by donating their unused products to hospitals and similar facilities. Likewise, some companies such as Stratasys have been 3D printing face shields to ease the shortage. Other companies such as Gap are switching their factories from consumer clothing production to produce face shields and gowns for hospital workers. 

Guns for Protection

I recently had to stop at a local sporting goods store, where I found dozens of customers seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights for the first time. Gun sales across the country have skyrocketed due to the coronavirus outbreak and impending recession, with retailers seeing firearms fly off the shelves faster than Christmastime.

Many states have shut down gun shops and stopped background checks, citing that firearms dealers don’t qualify as essential businesses.

This is an ideal time not only to look at emergency management plans but also to review your weapons policies and communicate them to workers. Likewise, make sure you’re open about all of your safety measures during this time to maintain morale and keep consistency among employees.

Remaining Active

For employees who are now at home full time, telecommuting can be stressful as work-life balance comes together. While many states have implemented stay-at-home orders, officials have encouraged walking, hiking and outdoor activities.

Self-care means getting up and fighting against the stress and anxiety that comes with this situation. We need to remember that we’re all in the same position, but there are some of us who will need help to move forward.

We need to ensure we stay healthy through considering our food choices, taking mental breaks and getting out of the house for exercise. The more we care for ourselves, the more we’ll be able to care for others.

Staying Connected

Social distancing doesn’t mean we need to reduce contact with our coworkers, neighbors, friends and family. In fact, it’s even more crucial now to check on one another and start with the simple question: how are you today?

One of my favorite pop culture images is from “King of the Hill,” where the four main male characters stand in front of a fence drinking beer and conversing. A new image floating around shows the characters spaced 6 ft. apart, practicing social distancing.

Whether it’s through a phone call or video conferencing or taking a walk together (maintaining the recommended 6 ft. distance), it’s more important than ever to check on everyone during this time.

We are at a defining moment for our country and for the globe. Once the pandemic passes, how will we continue to care for one another? Will our needs change? What will our workforce look like once we return to the office, the plant, the job site? What will this mean for EHS professionals?

The fact is that we don’t know what the “new normal” will be, but if we focus on self-care, being proactive and helping where we can, it’ll be the first step to creating a better workplace and a more positive world once we reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

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