Working from home “significantly more effective” than masks on children
It followed stronger worded advice from acting Victorian Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie, who recommended “work from home where practicable during the coming period of increasing transmission and consequent pressures on the health system in July and August “. In the same council, he called for the reintroduction of mask mandates in several places, including in schools, excluding children in second grade and below.
July was Victoria’s deadliest month since the pandemic began. The state recorded 737 deaths for the month ended Sunday, July 31, compared to 505 in June.
Epidemiologist Professor Jamestraur said that instead of mandating masks for young school children, the first thing he would do if there was a need to reduce the spread of COVID-19 would be to encourage people to work from home.
“I think that’s going to be a lot more effective than asking eight-year-olds to put on face masks.”
The head of the Department of Epidemiological Modeling at Monash University said he wasn’t sure how helpful mandating work from home would be at this stage of the current Omicron wave, but it could be the first phase of a plan for the be the next challenging variant.
“But I think we only have to do that if we’re really expanding our healthcare services… it should be some sort of contingency measure when we get to the stress levels that we’re getting at the moment.”
The number of Australians hospitalized with COVID-19 is near its highest level since the pandemic began, and for many months hospital workers have reported being dangerously overwhelmed by staff and bed shortages.
McVernon, who has been working from home more lately, said she thinks it’s fortunate that the last big Omicron wave in January happened during the holiday season, because while people were socializing, they were doing so with the same group of people, often over shorter periods of time.
“Workplaces bring together people from many different households and from many different regions [and] They often travel together in crowded transport.”
For those businesses where people can’t work from home, McVernon suggested doing what they did when the pandemic began and changing shift arrangements so important people aren’t working at the same time.
Earlier this month, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which includes all of the country’s chief health officers, urged employers to “assess the feasibility of some staff working from home”.
“We know that many people in many companies can work from home and continue to be productive,” Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly said last week.
Professor Alex Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said that beyond vaccination, which is number one, it is difficult to categorize the benefits and harms of different public health interventions.
“So the general message to the public is do as many as you can without it doing you too much harm [whether that be] Reduce contacts, work from home [or] Wear a mask on the bus or in the grocery store.”
Victorian Labor Secretary Jaala Pulford said on Friday that Victorian employers are finding the right balance when it comes to working from home, saying: “Leaders in our work community recognize their responsibility to ensure that their employees are healthy and safe at work”.
With Rachel Eddie and Ashleigh McMillan
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