COVID-19: You Need to Know the Risks of Working at Home

EDSA During the Enhanced Community Quarantine

Living in Tagaytay is one of the best decisions I made for myself. It is such an idyllic city with a cool climate and gorgeous views. But a month after I relocated, the government imposed a lockdown. Nonetheless, it did not disrupt my lifestyle and career as I live alone and work online. Still, COVID-19 poses risks even for those working from home.

Quarantine is supposed to keep people safer by reducing the risk of transmission. However, my understanding of COVID-19 and human interaction dynamics led me to conclude one thing. The notion that secluding ourselves in the house keeps us safe is not entirely true.

COVID-19’s main transmission route is through respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Another person close by and inhaling contaminated air may lead to the virus entering the lungs and incubating. And that is the purpose of imposing a community quarantine and social distancing measures. Its goal is to create separation, thus reducing transmission.

Is it possible to be in the same space previously occupied by an infected person and be infected?

Expelled viruses will settle on the ground, tabletop, and any surface. While small particles settle within minutes, the larger particles may spread farther before settling. In theory, it is possible to pick up some viruses by touching contaminated surfaces. But there is no evidence of any person acquiring COVID-19 in this manner.

Because of minimal contact, working from home does appear to be safer. Once the initial “hysteria” passes, most people will likely return to their old ways. No longer will many of them follow the health protocols recommended by the medical authorities.

A false sense of security could get you, a loved one, or a neighbor infected.

Unfortunately, many of us neglect other possible causes of viral contamination and transmission. And the consequence of being less mindful and keeping up to date is increased risks of infection.

No One Can Stop Viral Transmission to Stop the Spread of COVID-19

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is theoretically possible but not going to happen. Travel ban and social distancing are two of the most widely implemented responses globally. But their effectiveness is questionable.

Travel Ban Does Not Stop COVID-19

When people were most fearful, they wanted the government to do something, anything. Never mind if a response has evidence showing its effectiveness. One such call is to bar the entry of fights from China.

On both social and mainstream media, people criticized Pres. Duterte and Secretary of Health Dr. Duque for not imposing a travel ban soon enough. Some people even claimed the country would not suffer from COVID-19 if they banned the entry of Chinese nationals.

My contention, however, is that a travel ban would not have stopped the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the Philippines.

During the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014, an average of 2.8 infected individuals left their country per month. Mainly, they traveled to low and lower-middle-income countries (Bogoch et al.). An 80% reduction in airline traffic only delayed the importation of infectious diseases by 3 to 4 weeks (Gomes et al.). It is evident from studies on the effect of country-level travel bans that an infectious disease will continue to spread.

One plausible explanation for this phenomenon is that no country can live independently. For example, in the Philippines, we depend on products made in China and other parts of the world. Hence, imposing a travel ban can prevent the arrival of essential goods. As the pandemic threat continues to loom, it may even prevent international medical experts and teams from coming to help. Thus, a better option is to control the disease locally instead of containing it at international borders (Otsuki and Nishiura).

Some people might argue that Coronavirus is not the same as Ebola. But the findings of the cited studies were also evident in other outbreaks. These infectious diseases include:

  • 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; also called SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV)
  • 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome; also called MERS coronavirus (MERS‐CoV)
  • 2015 Zika Virus

A local travel ban also does not stop Coronavirus from spreading. In Wuhan, the travel quarantine could only delay the spread of COVID-19 to other areas by only a few days within the country and 2 to 3 weeks outside the country (Chinazzi et al.).

In my opinion, there is no stopping COVID-19 from reaching our shores even if Pres. Duterte imposed a travel ban earlier. Furthermore, the virus will continue to spread even if local borders are closed.

COVID-19 Case Importations Before and After Wuhan Travel Ban
Source: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aba9757

Social Distancing Either Works or Makes It Worse

Consistent with the previously published studies, an outbreak is occurring at an alarming rate.

Reducing virus transmission can be accomplished by social distancing in schools, workplaces, and mass gatherings (Qualls et al.). And there is a compelling reason for the implementation of such a measure. By increasing physical distance or reducing close contact frequency in dense community settings, virus transmission can lessen by up to 23% (Ahmed et al.).

Social distancing is not a sure success, though, and results in two extremes.

  1. Adopt a highly cautious control that can suppress the epidemic quickly.
  2. If such a measure is attempted but not enough to contain the spread, the outcome will worsen. In this case, doing nothing is better than trying (Maharaj & Kleczkowski).

Four months after the imposition of community quarantine and social distancing, the impact proved devastating. 40% of companies temporarily suspended their operations, while 15% closed permanently. Sales were down by 64%, with 89% of companies reporting a continued reduction in sales (“Impacts of COVID-19 on Firms in the Philippines”).

As the government struggles to balance public health and severe economic loss, the workforce can only stay home, many without an alternative income source. Online freelancers, too, are vulnerable as companies overseas are also dealing with the same problem. At any given time, they could lose their jobs.

Sources and Further Reading

Ahmed, Faruque, et al. “Effectiveness of Workplace Social Distancing Measures in Reducing Influenza Transmission: A Systematic Review.BMC Public Health, vol. 18, no. 1, 18 Apr. 2018. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

Bogoch, Isaac I., et al. “Assessment of the Potential for International Dissemination of Ebola Virus via Commercial Air Travel during the 2014 West African Outbreak.The Lancet, vol. 385, no. 9962, 3 Jan. 2015, pp. 29–35. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

Chinazzi, Matteo, et al. “The Effect of Travel Restrictions on the Spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak.Science, vol. 368, no. 6489, 6 Mar. 2020, pp. 395–400. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

Chiu, Patricia Denise M. “Why the Philippines’ Long Lockdowns Couldn’t Contain Covid-19.BMJ, 20 Aug. 2021. Accessed 14 Mar. 2022.

Gomes, Marcelo F. C., et al. “Assessing the International Spreading Risk Associated with the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak.PLoS Currents, 2 Sept. 2014. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Firms in the Philippines.” The World Bank, July 2020.

Maharaj, Savi, and Adam Kleczkowski. “Controlling Epidemic Spread by Social Distancing: Do It Well or Not at All.BMC Public Health, vol. 12, no. 1, 20 Aug. 2012. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

Otsuki, Shiori, and Hiroshi Nishiura. “Reduced Risk of Importing Ebola Virus Disease because of Travel Restrictions in 2014: A Retrospective Epidemiological Modeling Study.PLOS ONE, vol. 11, no. 9, 22 Sept. 2016. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

Qualls, Noreen, et al. “Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza.MMWR. Recommendations and Reports, vol. 66, no. 1, 21 Apr. 2017, pp. 1–34. Accessed 18 Nov. 2021.

ROBERT LEE

I write articles that people actually read and Google loves.

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