It's been months since the realities of the coronavirus sunk in and businesses shut down. Has COVID-19 fatigue set in?
We all stayed at home as much as we could. We stopped traveling to see family and friends. Concerts and movies? They're out of the question.
We're wearing masks every time we leave the house. A trip to your local grocery store feels like going into enemy territory. Only touch what you want to buy. Stay six feet away from others at all times.
And, after months of all of this, we're tired. In the United States and across the world, the COVID numbers are starting to climb again, and doctors are blaming it on "COVID fatigue" (also known as "pandemic fatigue" or "coronavirus burnout"). What is COVID fatigue? Simply put, it means we're exhausted by the strain of pandemic rules, and consequently, we're not observing those rules as we should.
A recent NPR report states that the U.S. failed to control the spread of the virus in the summer months enough to get a handle on it. Now, as cooler temps arrive, we're trending the wrong way. As of mid-October, the U.S. is averaging 55,000 or more new cases per day and increasing. That number was down as low as 35,000 in mid-September.
The NPR report lists "the return of students to campus, resistance to mandates on social distancing and mask-wearing, and more people spending time in restaurants and other indoor settings" as primary factors in the increase of COVID cases. In other words, we're not diligent enough, and there may be no end in sight if we can't be better.
It's not that people intentionally break the pandemic guidelines; it's more of an unconscious relaxing of the rules. Do you see it in your business? Here are three things to look for and how you can fight COVID fatigue.
1) People Forget to Wear Masks
Some people don't want to wear masks and, where it's not mandated, that's their choice. Others might simply be forgetting to do it. Those signs you have by the front doors? They don't even see those anymore. They've become the visual equivalent to white noise. It's called sign fatigue.
If you want to keep people wearing masks and being safe in your facility, the best thing you can do is bring their attention to it in exciting ways. Make face mask signs noticeable again.
You can start by changing up your signs by the front door and throughout your facility. Change up the wording and the colors. Have fun with it. People are bored, give them a chuckle or a surprise. You can go a step further and have your employees wear fun, noticeable face masks.
2) Social Distancing is Getting Less Distant
Most of us had never heard of social distancing a year ago. Now, every one of us knows that we should stay six feet apart from others when we're out in public. Most places where you have to stand in line or sit down have signs and floor markers to help remind us.
But it's been several months. Many floor signs have been stepped on thousands of times, and the color and messaging are fading or rubbing off thoroughly.
Take a look at your signs and floor markers. Are they in good shape, or do they need replacing? Replacing old, worn-out signs and floor markers can help bring attention to your message again. You can also try switching up the placement of your signs to attract peoples' eyes once again.
3) Hand Hygiene is Less of a Priority
Months ago, we were all washing our hands and singing the Happy Birthday song (twice!) many times a day. In between, we were using hand sanitizer if we so much as waved to another person.
Now, we're drifting back to normal. People are still washing their hands before meals and after using the restroom (we hope), but the frequency and thoroughness of handwashing and hand-sanitizing are slipping back to pre-COVID norms.
The best thing you can do in your facility to ramp up hand hygiene is to make it as easy as possible for everyone.
Make sure you are well-stocked with hand soap and hand sanitizer. Put up hand sanitizing stations throughout your facility and mark them well, so they're easy to find.
Near sinks, post reminders to wash hands. You can even post the lyrics to the Happy Birthday song or 20-seconds-worth of lyrics to any song you think is fun. Let people choose their songs. Do they want to scrub to 20 seconds of Bon Jovi or Beyonce? By having a little fun with it, you'll get peoples' attention and increase the chance that they'll scrub those hands properly.
Fight COVID Fatigue Surprise and Fun
COVID fatigue is real, and it's not going away anytime soon. It affects the "three W's" of safety precaution - wear, wait, and wash. Wear a mask. Wait for at least six feet from others. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
The key to getting people back into good habits is to add a little bit of surprise and fun. Surprise can be as small as changing the placement of some of your messaging so that it catches the eye. Or, it could be bright, new colors or new shapes for your messaging.
Just because we're in a pandemic doesn't mean we can't have a little fun with messaging as well. People need a smile now more than ever. Adding fun cartoon characters to signage or giving people the lyrics to "Love Shack" instead of the Birthday Song can be just enough to wake up their senses and get them back on track, at least while they're in your facility.
Give your customers and your employees a little jolt of fun and surprise, and you can snap them awake from COVID fatigue. We can get through this safely while smiling.
Lockout tagout is a safety procedure that ensures machines and equipment are properly shut off during maintenance or repair work.