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What Schools Have Learned from Reopening

What Schools Have Learned from Reopening

Ever since lockdown orders were first put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, we have all wondered when life will return to some semblance of normalcy. While the coronavirus is certainly still ongoing, many communities around the United States have gradually been “opening back up.” Some of the biggest “reopening” challenges come from students returning to schools.

Schools face many of the same difficulties that any indoor, public space has from reopening in the midst of a deadly pandemic. When you enact strict policies requiring masks upon entry, there’s only so much one can do to enforce it, even among adults. Some people wear their masks improperly (the mask goes over your nose, not just your mouth!), and others take the mask off entirely the moment they don’t think anyone is paying attention. 

Ask any “essential worker,” and they could probably tell you a horror story about hostile customers stubbornly refusing to wear a mask at all, on principle.

When you’re in a school environment, enforcing mask-wearing alone becomes even more difficult. Kids are unpredictable, from chaotic toddlers to rebellious teenagers. It’s impossible to guarantee that all students in a given school will wear masks at all times, just like you can’t entirely stop kids from talking out of turn or texting in class. Similarly, it’s hard to keep them six feet apart when they went to whisper jokes to each other, hug, or even fight.

There’s also the issue of school crowding. Back in August, a Georgia high school student was suspended when she shared a picture of her school’s crowded hallway on social media in an effort to shed light on the severity of the problem. In an effort to avoid those risks, some schools have opted to “partially” reopen, having some children come to school physically while others take advantage of remote learning, and switching off on a day-to-day basis.

Safety measures such as these may benefit teachers and other faculty members more than students. While COVID-19 is certainly not harmless among young people, it presents a significantly greater risk to older people. In fact, some researchers have suggested that it may be healthier to send kids back to school than keeping them at home, where they risk physical inactivity, mental health problems, and in some cases, even child abuse. 

Remote learning can also be difficult on parents and guardians. If their jobs don’t allow them to work from home, that presents a problem when they’re asked to return to work physically and still need someone to watch their children while they’re away. Plus, remote learning can often be more demanding for caretakers than when they’re children attended school physically. They may be asked to take a more active role in daily lessons, and providing the necessary electronic devices for their children isn’t always easy or affordable either.

There are no easy answers here. However long the pandemic continues, children will still need an education, and educators, from teachers to aides to superintendents, are still learning as they go. Luckily, it’s not all bad news

The lessons schools have learned from the pandemic can still be applicable after the pandemic ends. For example, now that remote learning has been normalized, it can be taken advantage of anytime schools have to close for any reason, virus or no virus. That might not be happy news for kids looking forward to snow days, but teachers being able to maintain consistent schedules, and the ability to adapt in case of emergencies, will do a world of good for them and their students. 

Plus, the fact that so many parents have been forced to take a more active role in their children’s education has fostered a greater appreciation for the hard work teachers do all year round, and can strengthen the bond between parents and teachers for a generation.

In any event, whether your child is remote learning, has returned to school, or some combination of the two, it’s more important than ever to monitor their health. Visit TouchCare Shield for more information about how you can keep your family, your employees, or yourself protected.

COVID-19 and Telemedicine

COVID-19 and Telemedicine

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has altered almost every aspect of daily life for the foreseeable future, from the way we eat, to our choices in entertainment, to our children’s education. Predictably, it’s changed the way we seek healthcare, too - and not just when it’s directly related to coronavirus treatment.

CDC-recommended social distancing measures require us to keep ourselves and those around us safe by avoiding close contact with other people as much as possible, whether you’re shopping at the grocery store or taking public transportation. From reopening our doors, we at TouchCare have learned some valuable lessons. Doctor’s offices can be especially vulnerable to coronavirus risk if you’re not careful, as there’s always a risk that the people next to you in the waiting room might have an undetected case of COVID-19.

That’s the most obvious appeal of telemedicine. When you can consult with a doctor over the phone or via a video call from the comfort and safety of your own home, the risk of exposing yourself or others to the coronavirus (or any other contagious disease, for that matter) is significantly reduced. After all, let’s not forget that many people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, so it’s not just about protecting yourself.

Yet there are many other reasons why telemedicine is useful that will remain appealing long after COVID-19 is defeated.

For one, it’s often more convenient than physically visiting a doctor’s office. Why not save yourself the time and transportation costs? Technology has made telemedicine easier than ever, especially as medical professionals are growing more accustomed to the new status quo.

It’s not just about physical healthcare, either. Tele-therapy is an increasingly popular option for mental health treatment, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see why. Not everyone has necessarily been physically affected by the current health crisis, but we have all felt a mental or emotional impact one way or another. Therapy is an invaluable resource for anyone and everyone struggling to process these difficult times. With tele-therapy, a licensed mental health professional can be just a phone call away.

Here at TouchCare, we’ve observed the increasing popularity of telemedicine and tele-therapy firsthand. In fact, this prompted us to launch two services to address exactly those needs: VirtualCare (telemedicine) and MindCare (tele-therapy).

We’ve recorded a whopping 16% increase in requests for virtual services, including tele-therapy, since the pandemic began in March 2020, with a steady 3% increase each month that followed.

That’s just one way TouchCare is committed to helping clients get through the pandemic safely and affordably. Check out TouchCare Shield for more about how we can help you and your loved ones stay healthy, including at-home testing.

What We’ve Learned from Re-Opening Our Office

What We’ve Learned from Re-Opening Our Office

Being an employer right now is hard.

COVID-19 has forever re-shaped the way we (employers) think about things. Prior to Q1 2020, it was seen as a recruiting tool to be an employer who placed an emphasis on employee health and well-being. Employee safety was always a must - making sure the workplace was actually a safe place - but employers in many industries never really had to think much about that. Hang a few OSHA posters, follow some very simple compliance guidelines and you’re good to go.

But these things have forever changed. Creating a “safe” workplace now is at the top of my mind as we have welcomed our own employees back into our offices and are helping other employers do the same. So now that we’ve been doing it for a few months, what are some of the things we’ve learned and how have we made the transition successful?

Our return to work strategy has focused on 4 key elements to keep employees safe:

  1. Daily screening / health checks
  2. Expert Concierge Support (we’re lucky with this one)
  3. Bulk population testing
  4. Virtual Medical Care

Below is the quick rundown of how we’ve been able to do it and some key learnings about our experience opening our doors.

  1. Daily screening. TouchCare has implemented our own daily attestation screening tool. Each morning, our employees receive a text message instructing them to complete a questionnaire regarding their health status. The questionnaire also pulls in the CDC recommended guidelines for safely returning to work. This has been pretty straightforward. One key learning here is that the ability for us (our management and HR team) to know the status (red, yellow, or green) for everybody before work even starts allows us to get ahead of managing workloads and preventing anyone who is sick or worried about infection from ever entering the door. 
  2. Expert Medical Support. This one is a bit of a lay-up for us because most of the folks coming into the office work for our healthcare concierge team. On a daily basis, our team works with our members to resolve complex healthcare issues. That said, we all need help and it’s great to have a team of folks there for you. COVID is new to us all. We have received positive test results in our office and our team was able to quickly identify local labs to send our members to for rapid tests to quickly ensure nobody else was infected. Likewise for our folks who have tested positive, it’s been wonderful to have our own team to help them navigate through everything as they deal with the stress and/or physical ailments of their results. 
  3. Bulk testing. Though it’s expensive, it is a totally necessary component to ensuring the safety of our employees. Before coming into the office for the first time, all employees must register a negative result. Then we test everyone regularly. By layering testing on top of the daily attestation tool, we have been able to effectively identify and act upon each positive result to ensure that zero spread has occurred within our employee ranks. The biggest learning here was the “ok, what now?” moment when we received our first positive test result. The contingency plan is a must! Write it out with your management team and communicate it to your employees before you ask them to come back. We dropped the ball on this one, but were able to react quickly and develop a plan that keeps everyone safe even after one person tests positive.
  4. Virtual medical support. In addition to having access to expert healthcare navigators, our team also utilizes virtual medical care as an option through our VirtualCare and MindCare product offerings. The pandemic has only worsened the mental health crisis facing our country. And access to care of any kind has been challenging - especially early on in the pandemic. Virtual resources have been huge for me personally and my team. Being able to speak with a doctor via phone or video chat for anything from basic medical care to psychological treatment is the best way to break down both the access barrier and the risk of infection that one faces by entering a medical office.

So what was missing from our original plan? The biggest piece that we quickly learned we fell short on was having a contingency plan. We didn’t think through the “what do we do when…” questions enough prior to welcoming everyone back. And what do you think happened? Our first round of tests resulted in a positive for one employee who was completely asymptomatic. As we didn’t have a good plan in place for what to do next, we decided to shut down the whole office for two weeks and retest everybody. By using both CDC and state guidelines, we could have more effectively avoided the two week shut down and kept our employees productive.

In the end, bringing employees back into the office is both a learning process and a risk. But one thing that really surprised me was how well received the news was. Most of our employees were genuinely excited to return and were more than willing to do so if we provided them with guidelines and diagnostic services that made their health and safety the main focus. While many employers have taken the approach of work from home for perpetuity, many others believe that employee productivity is better in an office.

Even among those reporting increased productivity, many are concerned over isolation, stress, and burnout. Still plenty of employers don’t have a choice - their business depends on people coming to their “office”. By focusing on the health and safety of your employees at the core of our re-opening strategy, we have found that our team has been happy, productive, and - most important - healthy.