Wednesday 23 March 2022

We don't talk about COVID (no no no...)

Today, in The Australian Capital Territory, we had the highest number of cases reported since the peak of the Omicron wave on 19 January. And it will probably be even higher, if the recent trends of Thursday reporting the highest number of the week continues.

Not that it's really a topic of discussion anymore. Welcome to the latest stage of the pandemic - where many have simply stopped talking about it. 

It wasn't always this way. We've been through many different phases of our relationships with COVID-19, which we've been very much engaged with and responded to. Whether it's mask-wearing and sanitising, providing contactless services, limiting our travel interstate (or indeed beyond our immediate neighbourhood), getting vaccinated and then our booster shots, and limited our workplace interactions with people who are unvaccinated.

We've gone through a long list of interventions, which has limited and in some places successfully (if temporarily) eliminated the spread of COVID-19. We've been vigilant, attentive and responsive - particularly in our workplaces and in our daily interactions with each other in the community.

But at some point over the past month, it's kind of... stopped.

Since mask-wearing became optional, it was almost like engaging with the risk of COVID-19 is also now optional. And my observations from attending moderately large-scale events, such as markets and live theatre/music performances, is that the majority of people won't take up that option.

I mean, yes, I get it. We'd all rather pretend that we're now in a post-COVID world. But we're not. We are still living in a global pandemic with widespread local transmission. We currently have a dominant strain that is more than four times as infection as the original. Thankfully, due to vaccinations, we've been able to limit the incidence of hospitalisation and death, but this is a strain that is not susceptible to immunity from previous strains, and often breaks through in cases where the person is vaccinated and boosted. And then there are the elderly and immune-compromised who are still at a very real risk of serious illness and death.

One thing that's also really struck me is that, in the last few weeks, there are more people that I know who have caught it, than in the previous two years. It's here, and it's hitting people who are within my social circles.

And yet, many of us are strangely blasé about it now. We've done all we can. Apparently we can't keep living like this, and we certainly can't go back to the lockdown days of 2020 and 2021.

So, this is what it means to live with COVID-19. It means that COVID-19 is something that happens to somebody else - until it happens to us. It means that the best thing we can do is try to live our best lives and keep our fingers crossed and stay quiet, because god forbid we should try to be proactive and ready for the next necessary intervention.


I want us to keep talking about COVID. I want us to be able to have candid conversation with our colleagues, our clients and stakeholders, about what we can all do to maximise each others safety. Not just some standard words about adhering to government guidance - but an actual conversation to acknowledge and address people's fears about what it might actually mean to be 'living with COVID'.

I want businesses who are, understandably, keen to get their customers and audiences back through the door, to take responsibility for the safety of their workers and communities. Let's stop trying to avoid our duty of care by saying 'oh, we'll let you decide what's best for yourself' - take the initiative to say, 'here's how we're taking care of your health and welfare'.

I want dance schools to take a duty of care so that I can feel confident to go into a room with 30 other strangers, and hold their hands, knowing that we've all had a frank and open discussion about how we're going to keep each other safe.

And that goes for you too, conference organisers! If you're going to invite hundreds (or thousands) of people to a physical venue during a pandemic, then your messaging about COVID safety needs to be front and centre. There are a few upcoming conferences on my radar, and from what I can see, this is not adequately being addressed.

I do understand that this stuff is hard, but we've been doing it for the past two years, and communication is essential for managing any kind of relationship. So, let's keep talking about it.

And if we don't feel comfortable talking about it, we need to ask ourselves why. Is it because in doing so, we might be acknowledging that we're taking risks by opening up - risks that we're not ready to accept yet? But that's another conversation for another time...

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