As Phase 3 gets underway, Dr Laura Lenihan considers the risks she's still not willing to take.
We are on the road to recovery. People everywhere are looking forward and whether it is your hairdresser, publican or beautician you are most looking forward to seeing, the end is in sight.
It has been a long, hard few months as we battled the coronavirus pandemic and people are understandably excited to move on. However, we must not forget what has happened over the last couple of months.
We have lost over 1,700 people to Covid-19 in Ireland alone; with over 25,000 people infected. Mothers, fathers, grandparents and children are here no more. So while it is exciting to move forward I don’t think we can be too complacent either.
Unfortunately we just don’t know enough about the disease to fully understand what might happen as we return to some kind of normality. The threat of a second wave is ever real.
Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the plans for Phase 3 of reopening Ireland. For us parents, childcare can open as can indoor and outdoor childcare facilities. Summer camps can go ahead (hallelujah!) giving us the (long-awaited) opportunity to get our hair and nails done as pretty much all services open up.
Is it safe however? Are we taking a risk or going too quickly? I trust the national public health emergency team (NPHET) that they are making the right decisions for the country. However, I think it’s important that we make the right decisions for us and our family also.
Let’s have a little look at some of the changes and how I’m going to navigate them as a mum of three young children (including a 6-week-old) and GP.
Being at home with our children for the past three months with little to no respite has made for some challenging times. As creches and childminders begin to open their doors next week many are understandably anxious about sending their children back.
With a newborn at home we have found lockdown hard and are looking forward to some time without toddlers
My girls (Harper, 3, and Indie, 2) attend a childminder in her home. She doesn’t mind any other children but does have three of her own. They will be first out the door on Monday if I’m honest. With a newborn at home we have found lockdown hard and are looking forward to some time without toddlers.
My children are also looking for some sense of normalcy and routine. They are dying to get back to their childminder and interacting with other children.
There isn’t any good way for them to practise social distancing when at the childminders but they know all about the virus and germs and are good at practising hand hygiene.
We are learning about respiratory etiquette all the time. I know some are worried to send their children back, but we have to take their mental wellbeing into consideration as well.
If their Montessori was open I would be sending them back to that as well and am looking forward to getting them back in September. Life is going to have to change slightly to a new normal, and children will adjust as well.
Washing hands and playing with small groups (or pods) will be the norm. In this regard, I would be happy enough with small playdates for my children as well.
As much as my children love soft play, they are a den of germs
When it comes to child-care play facilities, however, I will probably be more cautious. As much as my children love soft play, they are a den of germs, and trying to keep them clean will be next to impossible.
My children won’t be happy to hear this, but I will be keeping them away from indoor child play centres for the time being. For me, the risk would be just too high. Outdoor child facilities such as playgrounds or petting farms are much more manageable in my mind. You can be much more active in supervision and keep hands clean while the children play. We haven’t been to the playgrounds yet but do hope to visit soon.
For myself I’m excited to get back to the hairdressers and beauticians. I have three appointments booked for next week alone. I think these kind of activities will be well managed. Hairdressers especially will be able to implement social distancing rules within the salons. Yes, your hairdresser might be at your head for some time but if you wear a mask and follow hand hygiene my impression is that it will be safe enough.
Restaurants and pubs are opening with precautionary measures in place. I for one am looking forward to returning to some of my smaller locales for a bite to eat. I think key here is the size of the establishment and cleaning procedures.
Gyms are a no-no for me for a couple of reasons
I’m not content just yet to frequent some of the larger establishments that could potentially have larger numbers coming through them as this will inherently increase your risk. I think sticking to smaller local restaurants and pubs that can keep a closer eye on numbers and cleaning procedures for me will feel a lot safer. I would have no issues bringing the kids either.
Gyms and leisure centres can also reopen at this time. These are a no-no for me for a couple of reasons. It will be hard to keep people apart and by their very nature would be breeding grounds for germs. Exercising, while burning calories also makes us exhale more and breathe in and out much deeper. This could potentially increase the risk of passing Covid from one to another.
I will instead be hunting down outdoor exercise classes in which you can be socially distant with smaller numbers of participants.
As much as I’m dying to bring my children to the swimming pool, this is unfortunately another thing I will be giving a miss. Potentially over the coming weeks I might change my mind about these things, but I think I would like to see the R number remaining pretty stable before I do. Remember, the R0 number will be a few days behind the actual spread of cases, so it might be too little too late.
Instead of the usual activities of maternity leave, I think we will be doing a lot more day trips around our own area, or possibly even further. I have considered going to the zoo, as I think this would be safe enough as long as you keep little hands clean.
You could bring a picnic on a nice day and hopefully stay socially distant from others. We have already been to the beach on a couple of occasions and again no issues with day trips like this.
Ideally we would like to rent a house or cottage and maintain cleanliness standards that way
I have also looked at possibly going on a holiday in Ireland later in the summer. I think ideally we would like to rent a house or cottage and maintain cleanliness standards that way.
With young children, I don’t fancy a hotel just yet — but perhaps later in the year. I am always considering foreign holidays also and have booked accommodation (that I can cancel for free) for September and October before the end of my maternity leave. My biggest fear with travelling is airports and the plane.
Remember, throughout all of this, it will be important to maintain social distancing as much as possible and not forget the important tenets of hand and respiratory hygiene going forward.
These simple measures will continue to keep us all safe. If you are worried when going to the shops or restaurants you can always bring your own antiseptic wipes to keep everyone and everything clean.
Wash or disinfect your hands regularly. If you go into a shop and use door handles that others have used you could disinfect once finished. Don’t touch your face, eyes and mouth with dirty hands and wear a face mask in enclosed spaces.
Dr Laura Lenihan is a Galway-based GP. You can find her on Instagram.
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