Handshakes, no; hand washing, yes. What else should continue?

A protective mask is seen on the ground near St.Peter’s Square, in Rome, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. Paolo Santalucia AP Every individual and every sector of the country have been impacted by the pandemic, and some lessons have been positive. For example, masks, physical distancing and frequent hand washing have […]

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A protective mask is seen on the ground near St.Peter’s Square, in Rome, Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.

AP

Every individual and every sector of the country have been impacted by the pandemic, and some lessons have been positive.

For example, masks, physical distancing and frequent hand washing have become a way of life, and those actions have decreased infections from other respiratory viruses and literally have been life-saving against COVID-19.

This begs the question, “Should some of the pandemic practices continue?”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious diseases expert, said yes, hand washing should definitely continue.

“The other one is you don’t ever shake anybody’s hands,” said Fauci, chuckling during an NPR interview.

He said masks may have an ongoing role, too. People have learned that masks help protect them and their contacts.

Last Sunday on “Meet The Press,” Fauci said that masks may become seasonal attire, for example in the winter when respiratory viruses are more prevalent. This week, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks in most places.

Fauci isn’t alone in wanting some pandemic practices to continue.

Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, Stanislaus County public health officer, has a list of things she hopes continues for the health and well being of the community.

She said in an email, “Spending more time outdoors. The outdoors refreshes the body, mind and spirit. Less travel, especially commuting, and more work from home. I would love to have that stay. This allows us to spend more time with our family and is fantastic for the environment. A final favorite is eating outside. I love that cities helped restaurants to expand outside, even closing streets for businesses to continue to operate. We have great weather here and should take advantage of this.”

But, she doesn’t share Fauci’s sentiment about handshakes.

“I have to say it still feels incredibly rude not to greet someone with a handshake,” she said. “While I agree that handshakes spread diseases, I think they have value, in that physical touch connects us.“

Vaishampayan said, “Feeling connected with those around us is very important and shouldn’t be lost. Frequent hand washing would go a long way to mitigate the disease spreading of handshakes.”

The list of activities health experts would like to see continue is extensive, including the pandemic’s slower pace, more cooking at home, enjoying nature and home-based exercising, among many others. MoneyTalksNews added positive financial lessons of spending more wisely, learning to work at home, supporting local businesses and stocking up supplies for emergencies (but not hoarding, as the authors said, no one needs 600 rolls of toilet paper.)

On everyone’s list – staying connected.

Connecting remotely using video conferencing and social media platforms, is one of the biggest boons of the pandemic. Keeping up with FaceTime sessions with grandparents and Zoom chats with faraway friends or home-bound neighbors has proven beneficial for everyone’s mental health. Even as more in-person check-ins are permitted, virtual visits in between can help cement the connections.

Shoring up mental health

Shontinese Huey, doctor of clinical psychology specializing in the care of children and adolescents in Modesto, said she hopes families continue being attentive to one another’s well-being.

“When I look at my own family, (we use) intentional practice daily, that is being mindful of your own moods and of those around you,” Huey said, “It brings opportunities to slow down, be more flexible and to be kind to others.”

She teaches intentional or deliberate practice, that is purposeful and focused attention, to her patients and their parents, too.

Another of her favorite “gains” from the pandemic is that parents have learned to slow down and practice self care. She hopes parents continue to make the time to listen to their kids.

“For those who have taken advantage of the time at home, they’ve evolved in their relationships,” Huey said. “Talk about what happened that was good today; highlight those positive things.”

She would also like to see parents continue practicing self care for themselves, and as models for their children, because it’s a valuable tool for nurturing mental health.

Jerrica Melaku, a Modesto mother of four daughters ages 9 months to 12 years, values the time to focus on family.

“Health and wellness are topics that we study and want to learn more about,” said Melaku. “We are trying to practice being more self-sustainable (and) how to be prepared for any kind of emergencies.”

Melaku was at the Stanislaus County Library in Modesto, with her three youngest daughters recently. She has transitioned to home-schooling them during the pandemic, while she continues to work as a resource coordinator for a local nonprofit. Melaku said they may continue home schooling after the pandemic because they are all enjoying it and the girls are thriving.

Even with the struggles to balance working from home and being thrust into the role of teacher, some parents have embraced the slower pace imposed by the pandemic because it has permitted more time with their families, according to a report in The Washington Post.

The quick pivot to distance learning was one of the major pandemic adjustments for kids, families and schools. From preschools to universities, the campus closures last March demanded an abrupt transition to virtual platforms.

Educator lessons: plan, prepare and reinvent

“The past year’s trials have, in many ways, prepared us for the tremendous opportunities we have to transform and reinvent our district in the coming years,” said Sara Noguchi, superintendent of Modesto City Schools.

Noguchi said her district had learned lessons from the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak that helped them to be in a better position for COVID-19. For example, they had personal protective equipment properly stored and ready for use.

She said one of the beneficial lessons from COVID-19 that they plan to continue is the improved connectivity, electronically and personally, with students and families.

“By doing so, not only did our students participate in distance learning, but we also saw parents connect through our virtual parent engagement workshops,” she said. “These workshops, offered every month in both English and Spanish, provided parents with valuable resources to help them play an active role in their student’s education journey.”

Educators and parents would like the increased family engagement in their children’s education to continue moving forward, as reported by other local school districts and nationally from the Brookings Institute.

Like schools, many businesses in the county shuttered last spring and now they’re preparing for what’s next.

Large or small, local businesses had to adapt

Businesses in Stanislaus County run a wide spectrum from small, locally owned operations to large corporate warehouses with hundreds of employees.

Moving forward, Opportunity Stanislaus hopes businesses expect, and plan for, the unexpected, according to German Zavalza, chief innovation officer.

“It’s very typical for small firms to focus on day-to-day operations, but this puts them at high risk because change is constant,” said Zavalza in an email. “The No. 1 thing we would advise every company is to have a capital reserve of at least 6 months, so they have a safety net and greater survivability.”

Tyler Richardson, chief business services officer for Opportunity Stanislaus, deals more with large firms. He said he has seen two major lessons from the pandemic that he thinks will continue.

“First, is how they approach the workforce,” he said. “There’s a lot more cross-training.”

He said with COVID-19, if an employee became ill, the whole team could be out for quarantine. So, employers have learned that they have to have back-ups to maintain essential operations.

He’s confident the diversity in training will be maintained post-pandemic, not only because it helps the companies, but having more skills also helps workers.

“Second is how companies view their supply chains (and) where do they get their raw materials,” Richardson said, “It’s a global economy. We import and export all over the world, but now companies are looking at multiple sources from multiple geographic locations.”

He added some companies are looking at bringing production back to the U.S., but it’s too soon to know how much of this will occur.

Staying home when sick

Healthy workers and healthy workplaces became priorities during COVID-19. Pre-pandemic American workers had a culture of going to their jobs when they had minor illnesses, colds or the flu.

“I definitely think that the pandemic reset the thinking about coming to work (when you’re) under the weather,” said Richardson.

For businesses that remained open during COVID-19, sick employees were expected to stay home to avoid exposing others to the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even issued guidance to stay home.

Before 2020, about three-fourths of all civilian workers had paid sick leave, but that dropped to 30% for workers earning less than $11/ hour. Low-wage workers, many deemed essential, report that staying home isn’t an option when they’re sick because they don’t want to lose their job or the income, with living paycheck-to-paycheck.

To help minimize spread of COVID-19, the California legislature passed a law requiring large companies (with 500 or more employees) to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for most full-time employees.

Richardson said since the pandemic, “It’s acceptable to stay home if you’re sick to keep your co-workers healthy.”

The shift in culture for a healthy workforce will likely continue, possibly by legislation, as well as the expectation from co-workers and businesses.

Nonprofit organizations faced some of the same hurdles as businesses, including trying to maintain operations safely to serve clients in need.

Flexibility and innovation – lessons for nonprofits

“We realize that continuing to be innovative, adaptable and willing to try new things will need to stay at the forefront of EVERYTHING that we do. We did not collapse into this crisis or pandemic, “ said Gina Machado, executive director of the Center for Human Services, in an email.

“We continued all of our services but in new innovative ways.”

CHS is a nonprofit organization that serves local youth and families with a wide range of services, including counseling, foster care programs, support groups, mental health services and health education, to name a few.

“CHS was able to quickly pivot on how we were providing services from in-person to platforms, like telehealth services,” Machado said, “This provided minimum barriers to continuing to receive services in a most critical time in our clients lives and amidst a pandemic.”

The organization is planning to continue offering services, via new platforms, to make it easier for clients to access their services.

Holly Grace Curry, director of youth services at Haven Women’s Center, said it’s been a challenging year, especially for maintaining youth and school-based prevention programs, with school’s transition to virtual platforms, but their services haven’t stopped.

“One lesson I am carrying with me from the pandemic is that with flexible creativity and a network of solid partners, we can do hard things,” said Curry in an email. “… Despite the difficulties ushered in by COVID-19, we continue to demonstrate one of our core values, meeting survivors where they are and providing the support they need.”

How can county government more forward?

Flexibility and innovation have worked for education and businesses, and perhaps surprisingly also for county government.

“I would say the ‘main’ lesson for me is a reflection of how quickly government can move when needed in a crisis, and how we can (and should) force ourselves to act in that same way in the future, regardless of crisis,” said Jody Hayes, CEO of Stanislaus County.

“Historically, I have viewed the county organization as a more progressive organization, however, in comparison to the level of agility we demonstrated over this last year, I must admit we still have a lot of room to improve in this area.”

He said one of the quick actions of which he’s proud is the coordinated efforts to get county residents vaccinated. They rapidly opened the old Scenic Hospital building to vaccinate seniors as soon as possible, which was logistically challenging. Then two days later, working with the city of Modesto, vaccinations were transitioned to Modesto Centre Plaza for easier access to the community.

“As far as the future, I think the lessons (about agility) apply to everything we do, from public safety operations to illegal dumping and community blight,” said Hayes.

He also shared his personal lesson, which is the importance of staying connected with family and friends. He said he’s a “fist bump guy” for his preferred greeting, “but I do think that after a year of isolation, we need more hugs in our lives.”

For lessons moving forward, Hayes offered the commonality across all sectors. He said, “COVID knocked us way outside of our comfort zone, and I think there’s value in resisting the urge to go back.”

This story was produced with financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of this work. To help fund The Bee’s children’s health and economic development reporters with Report for America, go to bitly.com/ModbeeRFA.

ChrisAnna Mink is pediatrician and health reporter for The Modesto Bee. She covers children’s health in Stanislaus County and the Central Valley. Her position is funded through the financial support from The Stanislaus County Office of Education and the Stanislaus Community Foundation, along with The GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee maintains full editorial control of her work.

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