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BUDGETING DURING A CRISIS

BY BRADLEY ATKINS

Managing a budget for the average Canadian can be a heavy lift. Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have reminded Canadian households that when unexpected events occur, we must be financially prepared. What follows are a practical series of steps that you can take to protect your wealth even when you are living paycheque to paycheque, provided to you by financial expert, Bradley Atkins.

Q: If you are living check to check, how do you assess your budget to see what’s really going on?

A: It’s important to have a handle on where your money goes each month. There are many apps out there that will get all of your transactions in one place, but I find it just as easy to pull up my checking account and credit card statements and write them all down. There’s something magical that happens when you go through the exercise of writing down each expense. You create a true connection between your brain and your hand. Write down every transaction going back three months and dig in to find the random expenses that occur throughout that quarter.

Then, create categories so you can see a full picture. Don’t make this too complex. Five or six categories is plenty—housing, food, entertainment, transportation, insurance and debt repayment is plenty of detail, for example. Working through this process alone sheds light on where expenses can be reined in. Remember that even the smallest expense compounds over time, not just the amount, but the life of interest you could earn as passive income for not spending it.

Q: Why is it so difficult to stick to a budget? If you are averse to them, what are some baby steps to get started?

A: The easiest place to start for most people is entertainment. Specifically, dining out. Morning coffee shop visits are easy to replace with a nice insulated mug and a coffee maker at home. Signing up for an online cooking class is less expensive than one nice dinner and can make eating at home each night fun. The added bonus is you’ll likely lose a few pounds, which can make you feel better and motivated. You don’t need to forego a new car or rush to pay off your mortgage too quickly. While those goals are nice, they tend to overwhelm most folks who just need to shave 15 per cent or so off of their spending each month and direct it towards their savings.

Q: If you don’t have any debt, but want to save money, what are some smart ways to squeeze more from your paycheque?

A: Easy, pay yourself first. Send 15 per cent of your pre-tax earnings to your retirement plan, and then into an investment account. If you’ve got a few bucks, you really should find an advisor to work with too, they tend to help you keep your hands off of your money.

A picture of a middle-aged couple. The man is looking at a laptop and the woman is looking at papers.

Q: What are three ways to drastically cut your budget and reduce household expenses?

A: Pretend you just had a child and one spouse quit working. Sell a car. Stop dining out.

Q: Which are some painless ways to cut your expenses?

A: Pack your lunch, cancel apps you pay for but don’t use, cut your cable and use online streaming services. Also, check to see if refinancing any of your debt makes sense (especially student loans and mortgages).

Q: Which expenses are destroying budgets, yet, we refuse to cut them?

A: Food and booze for sure, at least until restaurants and bars shut down. We now see people spending as much money dining out as they spend on housing. Everyone wants to live a lifestyle of the rich and famous and it is destroying budgets. If you are a two-income household living paycheque
to paycheque, you can’t afford to be a foodie! If you want to feel closer to the culinary scene, take a class online and spend time cooking for yourself and learning about cuisine.

Recent events such as the COVID-19 pandemic have reminded Canadian households that when unexpected events occur, we must be financially prepared.

Q: What are some ways to have free fun without the expense?

A: We seem to have lost the art of entertainment. Invite people to your backyard or the park and have them each bring their own meal and drinks. I’m amazed at the restaurant expenses I’ve seen over the past ten years or so. It’s not uncommon to see folks spending thousands of dollars at bars and restaurants each month. That expense alone equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost savings over 20 years.

Sports is another way to stay fit and have fun for a minimal cost. There are many great leagues for sports that don’t cost a lot of money. Soccer, softball and basketball all have great leagues in most cities and don’t require thousands of dollars of equipment. They also take a couple hours out of your evenings that might otherwise be spent at expensive happy hours or attending other entertainment events.

You know what else is fun? A part-time gig in a field you’ve always wanted to work in. Our firm is headquartered in a coastal city where I see a lot of folks working part-time at marinas, golf courses and popular entertainment venues. When you’re busy, you don’t have time to spend money and the added income from a second job can have a huge impact on your financial life.

Picture of Bradley Atkins.

Bradley Atkins is the CEO of Modern Capital, a diversified financial services firm. www.moderncap.com

BALANCING SAFETY AND ECONOMICS

BY TEDDY KATZ

Every aspect of Chelsey Gotell’s life has been impacted by the pandemic: her family, her Osteaopathic clinic, and her ongoing volunteer work for the International Paralympic Committee as chair of the Athlete’s Council.

While the 12-time Paralympic medallist in swimming for Canada can’t wait to reopen her health practice, she admits returning to work right now also leaves her a little nervous.

Gotell, who has oculocutaneous albinism and is visually impaired, owns and operates Etobicoke Osteopathy where she treats a number of people with disabilities. Her work involves a type of manual therapy that focuses on treating the root cause of pain, rather than symptoms. It takes a
full body approach to health and well-being and treats everything from spinal imbalances, muscle aches and pains to digestive issues, and headaches.

With this summer’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo postponed until August 2021, Gotell has found more time and energy to focus on safe ways to reopen and continue to build her practice. Some of the conversations she’s had with frightened Paralympic athletes around the world, and knowing how immunocompromised some of them are, have also made her look for innovative solutions and reflect on how she can better help people with disabilities and older adults.

Like many Canadians, Gotell hasn’t been able to earn a living after completely shutting down her operations in March because of the risk of COVID-19 transmission. With her husband also self-employed, for months they’ve relied on the federal government’s emergency CERB benefit to pay the bills.

That’s why—on the one hand—she says it will be great to get her business back up and running. “I’m really itching to get back to work and do what I’m trained to do. I got into this profession to help people feel better.” She adds, “Now is a prime time when I really need to be out in the community supporting people, but with non- essential health care being limited until recently, I’ve had to remain closed.”

On the other hand, Chelsey tells me, she’s trying to balance the economics with treating patients and her genuine concerns for her safety and the safety of her patients. In addition, she recognizes the complexity of opening her doors as many of her patients looking for therapy are from vulnerable populations. And of course, they usually come to see her when they are not feeling their best. “We treat a lot of elderly people, a lot of people with disabilities, infants, people with different types of immunocompromised diseases and disorders so the precautions that we need to have in place need to be much more strict.”

Gotell plans to reserve the first appointment each day at her clinic for people with disabilities or anybody who is immunocomprised. That way
all of us don’t have to worry who is coming into the clinic before or after them.

“People with disabilities are always the most marginalized within any community whether it’s the good times or tough times like now in
the pandemic,” Gotell says. “They deserve and need to feel good and trust that the systems in place will safeguard and protect them. Especially
as somebody with a disability myself, this is very close to my heart. It is such an easy piece to put into place to make sure everyone is getting the
best care and they can just relax when on my table.”

“Talking to many Paralympic athletes throughout the pandemic globally—and knowing how immunocompromised some of them are, they are terrified for their lives. There’s a real fear because of this virus.”

She also plans to closely follow all of the safety guidelines of the Government of Ontario and the Ontario Osteopathic Association. This includes screening patients on the phone and then when they arrive at their appointment for COVID-19. Gotell also won’t allow anybody into the waiting room. Patients will be asked to wait in their cars until they are invited to come in. They’ll be expected to wear masks, leave their shoes in a designated bin and sanitize their hands before their appointment.

Gotell will wear a mask that will be changed between patients and, depending on each patient’s individual needs based on the pre-screening and their health, she may also wear a gown, gloves and a face shield. She is also planning to schedule fewer appointments per day to ensure there is no crossover of patients in the clinic and to allow more time to sanitize between patients.

“I’ll be sanitizing everything that’s touched during the actual treatment with my patients whether it’s a handrail, a doorknob, the treatment table and pillows—anything they lean on to put on their shoes will be sanitized in between my patients.”

But, her patient appointments aren’t the only thing Gotell is worried about: “I have Emily, my 14-month-old daughter. The number one priority in my life is to make sure that, as her protector, I keep her safe and healthy.”

“My clinic is currently in the basement of my house, so I also need to consider bringing people into my home for treatment as an added layer of complexity.“

This means that on scheduled clinic days, her family will only use the front entrance, while patients will enter through the back. All the clothing Gotell wears in her workspace and with patients during the day will immediately go into the wash.

“This pandemic has created a lot of risk and extra work for me and a great deal of stress and anxiety for people—and stress manifests itself in the body physically—I’m really looking forward to helping the people who need me right now but I have to be very careful.”

Picture of Teddy Katz.

Teddy Katz was a CBC sports journalist for 20 years, and chief spokesperson and director of media relations for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. More recently, Teddy helped run the press office for the International Paralympic Committee in Rio and will be at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.

STAYING ON TASK

BY TEDDY KATZ

One of Canada’s most successful Paralympians, now a swim coach, fitness instructor and public speaker as well as the chef de mission for Team Canada in Tokyo, should win her 20th medal for the ingenious way she’s kept her various business ventures up and running during COVID-19.

In early March, when most of her activities could have come to a screeching halt as the pandemic restrictions closed in, Dixon, who hails from White- horse, Yukon, decided to tackle things in her normal tenacious style. Consequently, she and her clients, have barely missed a beat.

When the Olympic size swimming pool where she is the head coach for 120 plus swimmers shuttered its doors, Dixon realized that in order for her athletes to remain motivated and actively training, she had to think fast. Hence her 30-day challenge and swim bingo contests were born!

Each swimmer was charged with completing a fun mix of prescribed fitness tasks and public service activities, including making a donation to the food bank. And, once it was safe to go in the water, she encouraged them to don their wet suits and take a dip in a collection of her favourite northern lakes. “It was right after the ice melted and the water was really cold. The idea was just to be bold enough to get in splash around and get out,” Dixon says, adding that in one lake there was still a huge iceberg in the background when she led a group into the water.

Picture of Stephanie Dixon and another swimmer in swim gear standing at the edge of a lake.

Dixon and her swimmers continue to swim in the lakes expecting that their indoor practice pool will likely remain closed until the last stage of COVID-19 reopening. “The water, pool deck and change rooms are considered high risk areas and if they limit the number of participants, it makes it difficult for the pool to operate financially,” she explains.

For her fitness classes and personal training, Stephanie received early permission from authorities to hold sessions outdoors in the empty field of a closed elementary school. To keep her 10 participants in each class safe during their workouts she places orange pylons two metres apart and stays clear herself. No one can share equipment and only one person uses each mat before it’s disinfected and prepped for the next class.

As for her work as an ambassador and public speaker, Dixon normally travels extensively. Unable to do that, she’s adapted to give her keynote speeches online. And, ever the “can-do optimist,” she sees the positive in this new approach. “I’ve been doing more and more things over zoom which is going to let me reach more people and limit the carbon footprint of our travel.”

As far as Ms. Dixon’s role as the chef de mission for Team Canada at the upcoming Paralympics in Tokyo, which has now been postponed until 2021, she’s grounded there too by travel restrictions. She’s had to send messages of support to athletes from afar. “It’s been so neat to see different organizations and events and how they are adapting,” she says, adding that, “in tough times we get resourceful and some of the most creative ideas are born.”

One thing the upbeat Dixon would like to change is the way she’s found herself subconsciously looking at the ground as she passes people in the street. “I guess it was making me feel safer not to engage. I’m not sure why but I have been very conscientious of late to look people in the eye. Just because we can’t be close to each other doesn’t mean we can’t share a warm smile when we greet one another. We can still connect as humans even though we are staying physically apart.”

Picture of Stephanie Dixon swimming for Canada in the paralympics.

5 ways to build resilience and stay motivated from Stephanie Dixon

  1. Be intentional and deliberate about your support system. The people around us heavily influence our thoughts and actions and most importantly, how we feel about ourselves. Surround yourself with people who make you feel seen, heard and valued.
  2. Limit exposure to social media. We are in a very heavy time and most of us are feeling sensory overload and overwhelmed. Swap a few dives down the social media rabbit hole for short quiet or meditative sessions. Wonderful free apps are Calm and Insight Timer to help you stay focused. When our minds are quiet it helps to put things into perspective and life and its struggles can feel more manageable.
  3. Get Outside! Nature is healing and restorative. While maintaining physical distance from others, make time to get outside! Moving your body will slow the pace of your mind and your day.
  4. Read books, watch Ted Talks, listen to podcasts that INSPIRE you. In this tough time, it can be easy for our minds to spiral into a negative narrative. Uplift yourself with positive, encouraging and educational content.
  5. Armour yourself with knowledge and resources! Do research about what resources are available for you right now. Many people’s lives have been turned upside down and there are many organizations providing financial support and/or resources to help Canadians get back on track. Find out what you are eligible for and which local organizations have support for you!
Picture of Teddy Katz.

Teddy Katz was a CBC sports journalist for 20 years, and chief spokesperson and director of media relations for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. More recently, Teddy helped run the press office for the International Paralympic Committee in Rio and will be at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.

9 BEST QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Here are some of the most common questions caregivers have asked during the pandemic. We hope these experts, answers will help you.

Q: Is it safe for me and my children to visit older adults in our family during this time?

Everyone should be aiming to interact closely with as few vulnerable adults as possible to be on the safe side. Make your “bubble” of a few people and stick with it. Reducing the number of people an older adult comes into contact with reduces the risk. However, the goal isn’t to isolate your older adult either. You may want to arrange short social distancing visits, one person at a time, keep up regular phone or video calls and continue shopping for them. Check out this helpful guide: https://files.ontario.ca/moh-how-to-build-your-social-circle-en-2020-06-12.pdf

Q: What precautions should I take when I’m visiting an older adult’s home?

Bring as little as possible into the house and practice good hygiene.

  • Wear a mask and gloves at all times and change regularly if you are providing physical care/assistance.
  • Wash your face, hands, and forearms and wash your hands regularly during your visit (remove jewellery).
  • Remove your shoes and wear indoor slippers.
  • Clean your cell phone with a 70 per cent alcohol wipe or put it away.
  • Leave your belongings in the car or near the door, limiting their contact with the rest of the home and shower/change your clothing if you feel your adult is at risk.
  • Pull back your hair to reduce the likelihood that you’ll need to touch it or that it would brush against your older adult.
  • Avoid physical contact and stay two metres apart.
  • If possible, conduct the visit outdoors (porch, yard). If not possible open some windows to improve air circulation.
  • Sanitize before leaving the car and upon re-entering the car.
  • If possible, limit the duration of the visit to 15-30 minutes (guideline for visits to MD offices is currently to keep them under 15 mins).

Q: Do I need to sanitize food and supplies before putting them away or using them?

Items from stores have been touched by many people and could potentially carry the virus, which can live for up to 3 days on surfaces like plastic and steel. Items that have been packed or delivered by grocery services have also been handled by other people. Later at home, lingering germs could be transferred to your hands.

This article from Consumer Reports contains useful information from infectious disease experts and specific suggestions on how to clean and disinfect groceries and other household goods that you’ve purchased or had delivered. For most items and surfaces, washing with soap and water can break apart the COVID-19 virus’ cell walls and kills it.

Q: What’s the proper technique for washing my hands to reduce the spread of infection?

  • Step 1: Wet hands with warm water.
  • Step 2: Apply soap.
  • Step 3: Wash hands for at least 20 seconds (including your palms, back of each hand, between fingers, thumbs and under nails).
  • Step 4: Rinse well.
  • Step 5: Dry hands well with paper towel.
  • Step 6: Turn off tap using paper towel.

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/ diseases-conditions/reduce-spread-covid-19-wash-your-hands.html

Q: How do I disinfect my older adult’s home to prevent the spread of viruses?

Coronaviruses are one of the easiest types of viruses to kill with the appropriate disinfectant product when used according to the label directions. Health Canada has published a list of hard surface disinfectants that are likely to be effective for use against COVID-19.

Although they do not claim to kill COVID-19, cleaners can play a role in limiting the transfer of microorganisms. Health Canada recommends cleaning high-touch hard surfaces often, using either regular household cleaners or diluted bleach according to the label directions.

These surfaces include: toilets, phones, electronics, door handles, bedside tables and television remotes. This bleach solution should be prepared according to the instructions on the label or in a ratio of 250 mL (1 cup) of water per 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of bleach. Directions are based on bleach that is 5% sodium hypochlorite, to give a 0.1% sodium hypochlorite solution. Never mix bleach with other chemical products and use it in a well-ventilated area. Special precautions must be used when cleaning with bleach to avoid serious incidents.

Q: When I go out to shop for food, can I take advantage of special services?

Yes. A lot of grocery stores have created special shopping times for seniors and people with underlying health conditions that compromise their immune system. However, whenever possible, utilize home delivery or instacart pick-up. A lot of stores have implemented both shopping and delivery services to help their customers stay safe.

Q: Do I have to wear a face mask when I go out?

Yes, you should wear a homemade mask or cloth face covering when you are in public. This is in addition to maintaining a six-foot (two metre) distance from other people, another essential step in slowing the spread of coronavirus. Many areas are now making wearing a mask mandatory in public places. Check your local rules but err on the side of caution and wear one anyway.

Q: Should grandparents be visiting with grandchildren right now?

Create your bubble and stay in it. For many families this is including kids and seniors. However, many doctors and other medical professionals are recom- mending that grandparents who are vulnerable shouldn’t visit with their grandchildren right now. Remember many people show no symptoms and older adults are at high risk of becoming severely ill if infected with COVID-19.

Q: My dad is quite ill and has an in-home caregiver who goes to care for him every day. What kind of precautions should they be taking?

It’s a scary time because older adults are at higher risk for developing severe illness if they’re infected with COVID-19. But they also need a
great deal of personal care in order to get through the day. Staying six feet (two metres) away or avoiding personal contact is simply impossible.

Every care situation is different, so what makes sense for one may not work for another. Reduce risk by following Canada.ca’s recommendations for high-risk individuals. Take time to learn the facts and take time to prepare. Educate staff about ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by:

  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food. Use alcohol- based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Increasing access to hand hygiene and cough etiquette supplies (e.g., alcohol-based hand rub, soap, paper towels, tissues, waste containers).
  • Cleaning frequently used spaces, surfaces and objects (kitchens, common areas, dining areas, desks, shared sleeping spaces, doorknobs, and faucets).
  • Maintain physical distancing, keeping at least two metres from other people.
  • Staying home when sick.

IN THE NEWS

BY JEN GIANG

HELP FOR EVERYONE EXCEPT US

Findings from a COVID-19 survey by Independent Living Canada done in May of 2020 focused on the concerns of people with disabilities, staff and volunteers at 24 Independent Living Centres across Canada. Most of the 325 respondents, (50% PWD’s), had grave concerns for personal well being and managing their financial obligations.

The PWD’s were twice as worried about health threats and social isolation. 91% were concerned about transmission and 2/3 felt they were at risk
of not being able obtain grocery supplies or having enough money for food and rent. Within the 80 percentiles of those who expressed concern, over 2/3 were very concerned about:

  • Not having access to PPE.
  • Not having the right or ability to be immediately tested.
  • Not receiving the same level of medical treatment if they were to be hospitalized for COVID-19.
  • Not being consulted like others about being treated for COVID-19.
  • If a choice had to be made, they would be chosen to die.
  • 81% feared not being about to visit the doctor or obtain a normal supply of prescription drugs, thus increasing both co-pay and pharmacy visits.

Full findings: partickcurran@ilc-vac.ca

Cartoon of a toilet.

FLUSHING ISN’T THE ONLY RISK

Before answering nature’s call, experts suggest that you should know your risks and take precautions. According to author Sarah Gibbens, in her recent article, using a public toilet may place you at increased risk given research that suggests that toilet plumes launch germy droplets into the air.

Citing a June study released by from researchers in China who talk about coronavirus-laden particles which are “flung into the air by the watery vortex inside a toilet bowl”, Gibbens suggests that many questions remain about the ‘toilet plume effect.’ Some experts she spoke to believe that there is indeed a likelihood that COVID-19 can be spread by bowel movements leading to accidental consumption of virus particles, a process called fecal-oral transmission.

Alongside a discussion about the real riskiness of restrooms, Gibbens is thoughtfully suggests what readers can do to protect themselves venturing into expert advice that includes: improved public washroom ventilation
with exhaust fans that are always running, more rigorous personal hygiene hand-washing techniques, wearing a mask in the restroom, install lids on toilets and even the recommendation for a new toilet design where the lid is automatically put down before the toilet begins flushing.

Source: National Geographic.

Man with a huge smile holding one arm out to his side and the other hand making the “okay” sign.

FINE BUT CRAVING CONNECTION

Canadians are anxious and crave real connection but in true Canadian nice-guy style, they still say they are doing fine.

Despite the fact that they are feeling more negative emotions than positive ones these days, (63% negative to 37% positive), when asked, “how they are?” 77% of those questions, say, “they’re doing fine.” According to Canadian Mental Health Association data, released to mark Mental Health Week, Canadians feel more isolated than ever, up eight points in just one month, and 2/3 crave real, meaningful social interactions in their daily life.

The materials presented suggest that even prior to the global pandemic, loneliness was already a major problem and a public health concern. “Most people want more social connection yet they are reluctant to have the kind of honest, open conversations that build the connections they crave says Margaret Eaton, national CEO of CMHA. “In our society it’s a culture norm to ask people how they are doing but not to expect, nor provide a truthful answer. This mental health week it’s time to get real about how we feel. Its clear we need each other more than ever”, she says. “Social connection
will help us recover.”

Source: Cmha.ca

FAMILY CAREGIVERS

RETURNING TO THE WORKPLACE DURING COVID-19

BY CRYSTAL GONDER

Following months of quarantine, with regions across the province entering a new phase of re-opening, many family caregivers are experiencing increased fear and anxiety as restrictions ease.

If you are a primary caregiver returning to the workplace or looking for employment, potentially exposing your vulnerable, aging, or ill loved one to the virus can be very distressing. Similarly, if you put in-home services on hold, or your loved one’s care needs have changed, you may be reluctant to welcome home care providers—nurses, personal support workers, rehab therapists—into your (or your loved one’s) home.

We spoke to VHA Home HealthCare to learn more about what home care organizations are doing to keep their staff, service providers, clients and families safe, to help you confidently decide what is best for you and your family.

VHA Home HealthCare (VHA) has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation and is carefully following the guidance of Public Health Ontario, including the regularly updated Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) standards for home care. VHA cannot speak on behalf of other home health care organizations. The information below reflects the procedures in place for VHA Home HealthCare and its staff and service providers.

Home health-care as an essential service

Long-term care facilities and other congregate living settings have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent data from the National Institute on Aging shows that 82 per cent of corona- virus deaths in Canada have occurred in nursing and long-term care homes. The safest setting to receive care is often in one’s own home and this is even more true now as older adults and those with chronic health conditions are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The top priority for home care organizations is keeping clients, families, staff and service providers protected. Infection prevention and control measures are a critical part of regular procedures, and like all health and community care providers, home care has adjusted to meet the need for even stricter health and safety measures and to quickly respond to public health recommendations during this time.

The safest setting to receive care is often in one’s own home and this is even more true now as older adults and those with chronic health conditions are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

What can I expect from my care provider?

Physical distancing is particularly challenging in home care, with many tasks that require close contact such as bathing, grooming and feeding. To continue to provide these services and also keep everyone safe, staff and service providers are required to:

  • Self-screen for symptoms every day and stay home if they are sick.
  • Screen clients prior to every visit.
  • Perform frequent and careful hand hygiene.
  • Keep a distance of two metres or six feet from others, whenever possible.
  • Wear a mask when they are providing care and can’t physically distance. Many care providers also wear a face shield when providing close care.
  • Use full personal protective equipment including gloves, gown, mask and face shield when providing care for anyone who has any symptoms of COVID-19.

Some home care services can also now be provided virtually, by phone, or by videoconference. Talk to your service provider to see if this is available in your situation.

An illustration of grocery store shoppers practicing social distancing.

What can I do to protect my family during and after visits?

Infection prevention and control is a joint responsibility and we all play an important role. It is a good idea to question and screen everyone that comes into your home. You are also welcome to ask your service provider about their organization’s infection control protocol—they should be happy to review these efforts with you.

Practicing good hand hygiene is the most important thing we can all do to keep ourselves safe. Wash your hands often with soap and water for a duration of 20 seconds. You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if hands are not visibly soiled. It is also a good idea to regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched areas such as phones, light switches, door knobs, appliance handles, keyboards, toilets and sinks.

Can I ask my service provider to have a COVID-19 test?

Many home care organizations support testing as an important strategy to fight the spread of COVID-19 and have been involved in advocating to make testing widely available. Testing is currently available for:

  • All people with at least one COVID symptom, even if it is mild.
  • People who are concerned that they have been exposed to COVID-19.
  • People who are at risk of exposure to COVID-19 through their employment, including essential home care workers.

Currently, testing is voluntary and an individual’s test result is confidential personal health information that is shared only at the discretion of the individual. Workers do not have to share personal health information with their clients. It is also important to know that testing provides a “one-point-in-time result” and what a test shows today may not be the status tomorrow or the next day. While testing is a crucial part of limiting community spread, infection prevention and control education, symptom screening,
physical distancing, environmental cleaning and especially good hand
hygiene are also important ways to prevent transmission.

Can I request that my home care worker wear a mask?

Clinical evidence indicates thatCOVID-19 is contact/droplet spread, which means it is spread through direct and indirect contact and through respiratory droplets from actions such as sneezing and coughing. While physical distancing assists in controlling spread, keeping six feet or two metres apart can be difficult due to the nature of health care work.

For this reason, the use of personal protective equipment is important for staff and client protection and to minimize anxiety. Many home care organizations require service providers to always wear a mask when they are providing close client care (within six feet or two metres) and the use of face shields is also recommended. You and your loved one are also welcome to wear masks during your home care services.

Illustration of and older woman and an older black man holding a cane. Both are wearing masks.

Can I request that we only have one service provider?

Due to the nature of home care and the shortage of home care workers, it is often not possible for home care organizations to have only one service provider visit each client. Efforts are made to have the same workers regularly visit clients as this has many benefits, but the complexity of travel, caseloads, childcare demands and individual care needs can make this challenging.

What can I do to protect the person I am caring for if I am no longer able to isolate at home?

It can be overwhelming to resume travel on public transportation, share a workspace and be in regular contact with other people, especially when you are caring for a vulnerable loved one. These precautions will help minimize your risk of exposure:

  • Monitor your health and watch for symptoms of COVID-19 including:
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Shortness of breath
    • Unexplained fatigue
    • Headache
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Unexplained runny nose
    • Unexplained nasal congestion
    • Sore throat
    • Diarrhea
    • Chills
    • Conjunctivitis (or pink eye)
    • Decreased smell or taste
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Abdominal pain
    • Sudden non-itchy rashes (in children).
  • If you have symptoms, self- isolate and stay home. Call Telehealth, your local public health unit or primary health care provider.
  • Practice good hand hygiene. Wash your hands often with soap and water for a duration of 20 seconds. You can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if your hands aren’t visibly soiled.
  • Continue to practice physical distancing as much as possible during your commute and in the workplace.
  • Wear a mask when keeping your distance from other people is a challenge (follow guidelines).
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Practice proper respiratory etiquette. Sneeze or cough into a tissue or the bend of your elbow.
  • Practice good environmental cleaning. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces regularly, including phones and keyboards.
  • If possible, aim for one person at a time in elevators, bathrooms, kitchens and common areas, or allow for at least six feet of distance while in motion.
  • Wait on stair landings for safe passing in stairwells and avoid hallway meetings/chats.

As recommendations continue to change rapidly, your home health care organization and care provider will keep you updated if there are
any changes to infection prevention
and control practices.

Crystal Gonder is the Communications Consultant for VHA Home HealthCare.

WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY

BY KEVIN SPURGAITIS

What employers need to know about bringing people back to work, including employees with disabilities.

As Canadians continue to address the great challenges of COVID-19, many employers are working to remove the barriers that affect the employees who are among the one in five Canadians living with a disability, many of whom are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

But, according to the federal government, mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on Canadians and businesses will be a “step–by–step process that could be as long as 18 to 24 months.”

In our “new normal,” experts agree organizations should focus on “workplace flexibility,” a way of thinking that benefits both the company and all employees. Ultimately, in this time of crisis, the country has an unexpected opportunity to make lasting changes that respect the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. As well, we have the chance to improve overall working life during—and after—the pandemic.

In a statement, the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR Canada) says that employers, in fact, have a statutory duty of care— not to mention a “moral responsibility”—for people’s health and safety during the COVID-19 crisis.

CPHR continues by suggesting a number of ways for employers to do the “right” things.

  1. Employers must keep up to date with the latest public health advice.
  2. Managers should be prepared to refer employees who are concerned about infection to official and expert medical sources.
  3. Companies would be wise to reassure employees who have COVID-19 concerns by utilizing an internal communication strategy to keep management and workers well informed of organizational policies to keep them safe, and contingency plans for employees who have been in contact with an infected person or get sick themselves.
A hair dresser wearing a mask and face shield cutting a man's hair.

CPHR’s guidance also includes encouraging employers to, “Understand that some people may have real concerns about catching the virus, while others may have worries about family or friends stranded abroad or working on the frontlines, such as healthcare workers. It’s important to strike the balance between your organization and its people being prepared for the spread of the virus while discouraging irrational panic with relevant information.” Of course, there’s always a chance the virus will continue to spread and prompt a “second wave,” so the association also suggests that businesses should prepare to “step up the level of support you provide to staff and adjust your resourcing plans accordingly.”

All employers are also advised by CPHR to evaluate their sick policies and provide guidance to employees and managers on how these will be applied to COVID-19 scenarios: “Ensure that line managers are regularly informed about the organization’s contingency plans and how to discuss the situation with any concerned employees, and where to direct people for further advice or support, including employee assistance programs or counselling if they are anxious. If your operations are severely affected, consider introducing a voluntary special leave policy on a temporary basis whereby individuals can opt to take paid or unpaid leave.”

In addition, CPHR’s pandemic recommendations remind employers to address the needs of specific groups of employees who may be more vulnerable as a result of a disability, pre-existing health condition or their role in caring for others. Today, more than 20 per cent of the Canadian population over the age of 15 has at least one disability, which means that a sizeable portion of each organization’s workforce will include individuals who may be at increased risk should they contract the virus.

Similarly, the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has been advocating for an inclusive and equitable response to the pandemic, suggesting the financial hardship of the pandemic has had gradations of severity, particularly for people with disabilities, their caregivers and their families. “[COVID-19] has put a light onto a lot of issues in our society…and there’s a concern, in general, that disparities might increase,” says Dr. Emile Tompa, a senior scientist at the IWH and the head of the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (CRWDP).

Recently, Tompa hosted a federal-provincial policy roundtable related to the Disability and Work in Canada Strategy, which the CRWDP played a significant role in developing. He also chaired the technical committee behind the recently released CSA Group Work Disability Management Systems Standard. The standard also addresses issues like COVID-19, as it relates to accessibility planning and work accommodation.

Tompa says he is pleased with governments and organizations that have been trying to put disability into everything they do: “It’s about building up management systems within organizations to help them do a better job in accommodating workers’ health needs as they arise,” Tompa explains. “It’s also important that they be cognizant of workforce needs beyond the front end of the [opening up, recruiting, hiring and onboarding] process, right over the life course of a person’s engagement in the labor market.” He also insists that there’s not a lot of time and hard costs involved with making most accommodations, even when solutions are “customized” and deployed on a “case-by-case basis.” Take flexible work schedules, for instance, he says: “They cost nothing. With good planning and communication, employees can be creative in how they engage with their work. Everything doesn’t need to be on site.”

COVID-19 does, according to Tompa, have an upside. It has introduced Canadians to what many people with disabilities must confront every single day and encouraged new learning and new flexibility. Workplace measures accommodating people who have disabilities, who are immunocompromised, or who live with a mental illness may have been dismissed as too cumbersome or costly in the past. But facilitating the inclusion of people with different expertise and perspectives is now considered the most ethical and economical way to do business.

Tompa is now leading a COVID-19 impact study, which is in its early stages of development in partnership with disability community organizations. His final tip for employers in both the private and non-profit sectors is to be patient, “creative” about solutions and open to more “learning.”

“[COVID-19] broadens the obligations of employers, and that’s scary when they’re already struggling to survive in a globalized competitive economy,” he suggests. “But it’s the only way to go. … If you have an open mind today, you’ll be stronger for it at the end [of the pandemic].”

A woman in a wheelchair pushing an elevator button.

Greater risk

COVID-19 leads to a respiratory type infection that is mild for roughly 80 per cent of the population. But it can be more severe for older adults or those with chronic underlying conditions. Some people with a disability may not have a high risk of getting COVID-19 or becoming severely ill if they do contract the virus. However, experts suggest they might be at
a higher risk of infection or severe illness because of their age; underlying medical conditions, like diabetes, asthma and chronic lung disease; or their disability, itself, which could place them at greater risk of being exposed and acquiring the infection.

An Asian woman wearing a mask standing behind a cafe counter.

Case Study #1: Variety Village

Reopening plans are no less thorough for Karen Stintz, Variety Village’s president and CEO. As a social enterprise, Variety Village offers a number of life skills and integrated sports programs that support children and adults living with disabilities.

Prior to being shut down on March 15 by the pandemic, Variety Village, a 179,000-square–foot recreation facility, had 6,000 members and operated programs throughout the day for a variety of constituency groups. For example: In the morning, throughout the day and in the evenings VV offered programs aimed at young adults with intellectual disabilities and individuals in rehabilitation, as well as older adults and elite athletes from a local high school. In the evening, it offered recreational programs focussed on children with disabilities and athlete training.

Stintz and her board are moving cautiously. “We are continuing to plan our day camps for children under 16 in July. During a typical summer, we would have at least 200 children per week. Unfortunately, this year, we are planning camps to half of that number of children. For our first week of camp, only 30 children are currently registered. It’s a big change for us as we normally have a full house with lots of activities and a cleaning company that cleans the building after hours. However, without the facility open we can’t afford the monthly fee for that service [$25,000] this summer so our management team will take on cleaning and disinfecting tasks as part of our duties.”

Staff will also be implementing protocols for social distancing and screening. Variety Village is also making personal protective equipment (PPE) available and requiring all employees who have interaction with the public to wear it at all times. Stinz tells us that staff have the option of using protective shields instead of facemasks if they feel it will help them communicate more easily with the children in their programs.

She also underscores the need for non-profit organizations to make accommodations for employees and counsellors during this time—even if the “the numbers of individuals who are being served will be quite low.”

Fifty per cent of children with a disability say they have no friends so, “It is very important that we are able to offer services for those who rely on Variety Village for social connections and activities, says Stinz, who adds that, “The self-isolation that we have all experienced for a few months is a regular state of being for many children living with a disability and their families. So, while its critical that organizations that serve those with a disability be permitted to reopen, we have a responsibility to make sure it is safe. Most of the children and adults coming to Variety Village are a high–needs constituency before COVID-19. Their personal challenges have stayed the same but now their potential health risks have increased.”

A business woman wearing a mask looking at her phone while holding her credit card.

Case Study #2: Royal Bank

The health and safety of employees and clients has been our “top priority throughout the pandemic,” according to a spokesperson for RBC. During the lockdown, the organization supported employees in a number of creative ways, including enabling more than 75,000 of them to handle diverse roles through technology solutions, allowing them to work from home. Communication specialists set up a centralized hub online to distribute COVID-19 updates, FAQs, and advisories, as well as helpful resources and support programs for working from home. In addition to conducting a series of employee well-being surveys, HR organized a series of virtual town halls with RBC’s CEO and senior leaders to keep staff across the country in the loop.

As a precursor to welcoming back its workforce, the bank has created new onboarding and training programs that are 100 per cent digital for the 1,400 summer students who are taking on roles across the company. Moving forward, each location will continue to undertake extra sanitation and cleaning measures, while ensuring physical distancing, for all employees working in central and regional offices as well as branch locations.

Kevin Spurgaitis is a Toronto-based writer interested in ethics and public health issues.

HOW TO SURVIVE A GLOBAL PANDEMIC

BY JOEL DEMBE

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way we live, work and interact with others. For persons with disabilities, it has magnified some of the challenges and disparities that continue to make life more difficult than it should be. However, as I’ve recently noted, it’s also proving that digital technologies and innovation can help to remove long- standing barriers to inclusion amid this global crisis.

As regions across Canada begin reopening and entering into a new normal, it’s important we not forget about the inherent risks that persons with disabilities will continue to face for the foreseeable future.

Without a viable vaccine, those risks will create a multitude of daily obstacles. Persons with disabilities (PWD) and their friends, family and caregivers around them will need to take serious account of their choices each day when it comes to re-entering restaurants, retail or office spaces.

For independent wheelchair users like myself, the coronavirus ‘experience’ has developed into a bizarre grey area of choices when it comes to living a normal life.

On one hand, I feel healthy. I’m lucky in that I’m able to work remotely from the office. And I continue to be socially active, albeit in the digital world. On the other hand, there are specific medical conditions that I possess—namely a severe scoliosis that has a slight impact on my lung-air supply—that could leave me more susceptible to the impact of the disease.

If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s the importance of setting up daily routines.

My advice to individuals with disabilities living through COVID-19 is this: Build multiple routines into your life: A routine for grocery shopping. A routine for staying active and healthy. A routine for working productively in a remote environment. And most importantly, a routine for staying in touch with your family and friends.

My advice to the Canadian business community is this: no decision should ever be made in a silo. Speak regularly with health professionals, community leaders and directly to persons with disabilities themselves.

To expand on this advice, I’ve put together some personal thoughts from my experience living through these past few months:

Working remotely

I consider the coronavirus to perhaps being the great ‘equalizer’ for employees with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities were already perfectly set-up to work in a remote environment—long before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic—through accessible technologies.

As for myself, the stress of commuting into the office is now over. Pre-COVID, my regular commute was over an hour each way. Now, I’m able to dedicate more time to keeping my body healthy while at home. My new morning routine consists of exercises and stretching, rather than sitting uncomfortably on a train.

I’m also able to switch seating positions on a regular basis at home. Instead of being stuck in a wheelchair all day at my desk, I can lay in bed or sit in my reclining chair when my body feels stiff. Furthermore, I’m able to wear more comfortable clothing at home instead of wearing buttoned-up shirts and suits each day. Getting dressed for work is no longer the arduous process it once was.

After three months away from the office, I feel like my body has been given some serious ‘R & R’ and I’m not sure I could go back to the same commuting lifestyle I had pre-pandemic. My hope is that Canadian employers continue to explore and expand their remote-work options, especially for those who are more vulnerable during the pandemic. I believe it would allow for more persons with disabilities to join the workforce, something that’s sorely lacking in Canada.

With employers in the process of return-to-premises planning for their employees, they’ll need to ensure persons with physical disabilities are considered at all times. For individuals like me who use wheelchairs, the complications of social distancing in an elevator, touching everything with hands and using a bathroom stall will make this planning even more complex.

To avoid these complexities, I believe remote- work options are the best path forward for those who are more vulnerable to coronavirus.

Shopping

As COVID-19 case counts grew rapidly throughout Canada back in March and April, major grocery chains made a great choice in allowing for a dedicated hour in the morning for disabled and elderly customers. This made shopping safer—and easier—for my wife and me. We were able to adhere to social distancing guidelines and spend less time worrying about bumping into others in the store.

I also took advantage of retail stores pivoting to curbside pickup. No longer did I have to spend time loading and unloading items—including my wheelchair—into the car. Store staff were able to do that for me. And certainly, using cashless check-out options (Apple/Google Pay) made the experience even more seamless.

Now that I’m venturing back into stores again, I’m realizing how important automatic doors, ramps and wide aisles are for safety purposes. If retail spaces didn’t have these implemented before COVID-19, they really should be now. For smaller businesses who operate a non-accessible storefront, an online delivery option can be an important alternative.

Support systems

I’ve realized how important a support system is for those who are at-risk. I was lucky in that my wife did the majority of our shopping in the early days of the pandemic. It gave us more confidence that we were staying safe.

But not everyone has this option.

In fact, many PWD’s don’t have the ability to leave their homes on their own. That’s why caregivers, including family and friends, will continue to play a critical role in helping persons with disabilities during this global crisis. Of course, caregivers have the added responsibility of not only providing assistance with errands, but also ensuring safety protocols are met (cleaning surfaces, wearing personal protective equipment and self-monitoring for symptoms). Speaking with colleagues of mine who look after their elderly parents, I cannot imagine the stress this must create.

I hope that we continue to find ways to support caregivers who dedicate their lives to helping the most vulnerable in our society manage through COVID-19. Without them, this crisis would be far worse.

Joel Dembe, CAF Patrons Council, Canadian Paralympian, Executive Communications, Royal Bank.

Think you might have COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

Visit an assessment centre to get a COVID-19 test. You can also take a self-assessment to help you decide if you need a test.

TAKE A SELF ASSESSMENT

COVID-19 assessment centres

Learn about coronavirus (COVID-19) assessment centres and what you need to know before you go to get tested.

When to visit an assessment centre

If you’re worried you have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it, you should get tested–-even if you don’t have any symptoms.

You should visit an assessment centre if you:

  • Have COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Do not have symptoms but are concerned you might have been exposed.
  • Do not have symptoms but think you are at risk (for example, if you are an essential or health care worker).

Testing is a free service. If you can, please bring your Ontario health card.

Anyone can get a test if they want one.

Some assessment centres may require you to book an appointment first or have certain restrictions (for example, some are unable to test young children).

When to go to the emergency department instead

You should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department if you are currently experiencing:

  • Severe difficulty breathing (struggling for each breath, can only speak in single words)
  • Severe chest pain (constant tightness or crushing sensation)
  • Feeling confused or unsure of where you are
  • Losing consciousness

For infants under 3 months

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department if your child:

  • Has a fever
  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Appears unwell

For infants and children over 3 months

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever longer than 7 days
  • Fever with a rash
  • Has a compromised (weakened) immune system with a fever
  • Breathing faster than usual or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin colour
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Is so irritable that they do not want to be held
  • Constant vomiting

Source: covid-19.ontario.ca

FAMILIES WITH AT RISK CHILDREN

BY TEDDY KATZ

Abilities chatted with family support specialist, Lorraine Thomas, from Holland Bloorview for her thoughts and tips to help families with immunocompromised children stay safe as things begin to open up and as people get back to work.

Picture of Lorraine Thomas.

Q: What guidance would you provide now that the world is opening up again, but risks haven’t diminished? What extra things beyond the “normal” advice we hear in the news should families keep in mind to stay safe?

A: Families who have members who are immunocompromised were already taking precautions. What they will have to ask themselves, is how they can enhance these precautions!

In regard to going back to work, I recommend that parents get a clear idea of what the expectations will be in regard to hours, job scope and exactly how their employer is making the workplace safer. This is especially important if you may need accommodation in regard to job tasks and hours due to childcare and medical appointments. For example, is your employer asking everyone to wear a mask?

If co-workers all wear masks in solidarity, that means someone at home living with an immunocompromised person is safer.

Q: Every day, there is new information that comes out—for instance—the virus and its impact on youth, people who are asymptomatic, how much more confusing does this make things?

A: New guidelines emerge almost daily, and it can be very overwhelming for families. This is where it might be helpful to keep in touch with their child’s family doctor or primary medical care provider at the children’s treatment centre. It might also be helpful for families to monitor the situation using a single reliable media source in regard to changes.

Q: Do you have special tips for parents of people with disabilities and those caring for vulnerable adults and kids to stay safe?

A: I have five tips that I would like to share:

1) Now that you are going out more often, you may need to take extra precautions such as washing your hands immediately before leaving work and then again when you come home; removing shoes and changing out of clothes in an isolated space before entering other parts of the home. It might also be a good idea to have a container at the door to put your phone, keys, wallet, lunch bag, purse in and wipe down those items before touching them again.

2) Still try to minimize your non-urgent outings: If you can’t answer “yes” to all three questions, then perhaps it is better to avoid the event:

  • Will there be an opportunity to practice physical distancing?
  • Does my loved one have the ability to sanitize their hands and/or understand the no contact rule?
  • Are they physically able to wear a mask as an extra layer of precaution, or is it highly likely that those around them will be masked?

3) For medical appointments, call ahead:

  • Ask the facility what precautions they are taking to minimize risk during appointment e.g. reducing the number of clients onsite, wiping down equipment between visits.
  • Ask if you can reduce medical appointments to essential appointments only; or scheduled at a time of day when it will be less crowded.
  • If you will be allowing a Personal Support Worker to come to your home, contact their providers ahead of time to understand their emergency preparedness and their protocols of service, such as the PSW wearing the appropriate PPE, restricting their practice to a limited number of clients or being exclusive to your family.

4) Don’t forget to take care of yourself: You’re already doing the best you can so try to keep up your regular healthy habits, such as trying to get enough sleep, eating well and exercising. These habits can help manage stress, depression, and anxiety.

5) It is o.k. to feel anxious: The return to “normal” will be a learning curve for everyone! Your child or loved one may also be worried or fearful about going out in public or that you are going “out there.” If they perceive you as being anxious/ scared/worried, then that’s what they’re going to pick up.

It might be helpful to create a social story to explain what is happening, and to create a routine.

Teddy Katz was a CBC sports journalist for 20 years, and chief spokesperson and director of media relations for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. More recently, Teddy helped run the press office for the International Paralympic Committee in Rio and will be at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.

Lorraine Thomas (above) is a Family Support Specialist and hospital lead for Health Literacy at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto. hollandbloorview.ca

Accessibility