Protecting those still on the job during COVID-19 outbreak
HATCHET LAKE, N.S. -- While many Maritimers are staying home, there are those who must still go to work. For those workers, there is a varying patchwork of protections put in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Pharmacist Andrew Buffett owns several Guardian Pharmacy locations in and around the Halifax area. He’s put up plastic sheeting for both his pharmacists and his store cashiers, to separate them from customers.
“We know the virus spreads through droplets,” he says. “So, we’ve hung the plastic drop sheets as an extra level of protection.”
He says more protective measures could come. His staff will start wearing masks if Nova Scotia Public Health determines there has been any kind of community spread.
Buffett’s store, along with others, has also placed tape on the floor at cash registers, to mark out the proper spacing for social distancing as customers wait in line.
Maritime-based grocery retailer Sobeys has announced it will be installing plexiglass shields in front of store cashiers as quickly as possible.
The parent company that owns Atlantic Superstore has also announced additional safety measures. The company is reducing store opening hours to between 7 AM and 8 PM. Loblaw CEO Galen Weston says the company will also limit the number of customers in a store at one time for the company’s busiest locations.
Even with these types of measures being implemented, there is still concern about the safety of workers in specific sectors.
“The workers who are being put in the most danger are retail workers,” says Jason Edwards of the Halifax Workers’ Action Centre. “As well as other service workers, people who clean hospitals, people who clean other buildings, things like that,” he adds.
Edwards says workers have a right to refuse work they believe is unsafe. But in this current scenario, he says, workers are often unsure what exactly that means.
“It would be a lot easier for employees if government would say, “This work is safe, this work is unsafe,’” he says. “Rather than relying on the employees to make the decisions themselves all the time.”
Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health says aside from establishments that have been ordered to change how they operate, such as restaurants, it’s up to other businesses to follow best practices when it comes to public health.
“If they can [adhere] to those public health principals thoroughly,” says Dr. Robert Strang. “Then, we believe they can remain open.”
Another group of people still on the job is Canada Post workers, as mail continues to be delivered and post offices remain open.
The Atlantic president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers says Canada Post has put extra measures in place, such as providing personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer and limiting the number of customers who can be inside certain post offices.
But Jeff Callaghan says those steps aren’t being applied in a uniform manner.
“Is it enough?” he asks. “There’s some places where they’re doing a good job and other places where they’re not doing a good job.”
CTV News also asked Nova Scotia’s Department of Health what measures it has been taking to protect workers for its 811 phone service. The service has added 18 additional telehealth associates and 35 registered nurses to its staff to handle the high volume of calls regarding COVID-19.
CTV wanted to know whether those employees are working in spaces that allow for adequate social distancing.
The Department of Health has not provided that information at this time.