“This means changing old mindsets and practices.”
It has been two years since covid became a pandemic, and we still lack better mechanisms to implement work-from-home, particularly in government. Given coronavirus mutations and variants, the incapacity of the government to fully protect people against COVID, and many other relevant factors, there is no more going back to the old normal ways of working.
Dodging the bullet
Just a couple of weeks ago, when news of Poblacion Girl broke, I wondered how much longer I could dodge the COVID bullet. Per the law of averages and given that the Omicron variant is about three to four times as transmissible as Delta, which is more than twice as contagious as previous variants, I figured, not much longer. Even experts were saying we would all eventually contract COVID.
NPR described Omicron’s spread as “lightning-quick.” This variant also infects fully vaccinated people, as I and my daughters are – and we had our boosters already.
So, after two years of dodging it, I caught COVID. Thankfully the variant is milder, or the vaccine is protecting people against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. But the illness does not hit all people the same way; the elderly, those with comorbidities, those who are immunocompromised, may experience it differently or even worse.
Last Saturday (Jan. 16), the Department of Health confirmed the community transmission of omicron and reported 39,0004 cases, a record-high for the third straight day, while active cases at 280,813 were also at a record.
These numbers do not include those who are positive but are untested. It is possible that the actual number of cases are much higher than recorded.
Some people are taking for granted that their flu-like symptoms point to COVID, and are treating their illnesses as such by isolating themselves at home and self-treating with over-the-counter cold medicines, causing shortages at drugstores.
Experts say getting Omicron could build up antibodies. However, for vulnerable populations, and even in general, in order to avoid burdening the healthcare system, we still need to avoid it as much as we can, through observing minimum health standards.
Sadly, each time the alert level comes down, people seem to think it’s license to wear their masks loosely and crowd others. It’s like all the communication programs on mask-iwas-hugas failed. They didn’t bring about the required level of behavioral change.
I surmise I caught COVID from a mother and son in front of me at a mall vaccination hub when I got my booster soon after New Year’s Day. They had their masks off and were talking almost nonstop. It might be a small thing to some, but to an immunocompromised person such as myself, it was a big deal.
Implement work-from-home better
So how do we enforce mask wearing and social distancing, as we have failed to do so properly? Do we implement stricter laws against being a ‘mask-hole’? It is difficult to regulate something like this, so the best thing is still to stay home as much as possible, and continue implementing work-from-home and online learning as the first line of defense against transmitting and picking up the virus.
Government, sadly, is still behind on work-from-home. As alert levels came down, the percentage of people required to return physically to work went up, regardless of whether or not their work actually required them to report to the job site.
I experienced this by running a government media unit, working from home. Then the memos came one after another – 30 percent presence required onsite, then 50 percent, then 80 percent. This was last month, before the explosion of Omicron cases. HR told me I and my teammates – who work entirely on digital news – would eventually have to show up at the office. I quit at the end of the year.
The Civil Service Commission (CSC), despite it now being the 21st century, and despite seeing how the pandemic has devastated public health, is still operating on antiquated “hand-holding” mindsets of getting people to physical work.
What some government agencies have done is to get their services online, which should be the case. Work should no longer be tied to physical presence but to output. The CSC, with all their expertise, should be able to devise metrics for that. How many government offices have we entered where we have seen employees napping or underperform during office hours. But per the CSC, they are physically present and so are “working.”
The “new normal” means living with COVID and its ever-present threat. Work-from-home is one of the best ways to keep people apart, prevent the spread of deadly viruses, and keep vulnerable sectors safe.
But it will mean changing old mindsets and practices. Let’s hope the CSC realizes that it can lead the way in this regard.
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