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Pandemic expert warns of more orders to come


March 19, 2020
By Patrick Flannery

In an podcast with Counter Talks host Patrick Flannery, Suzanne Bernier of SB Crisis Consulting warned that equipment rental operators should be ready for even more announcements from governments establishing yet more measures to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The podcast was recorded on March 17, the day the Ontario government declared a state of emergency in the province and ordered bar and restaurants to close dining rooms.

Bernier helped develop the Ontario Workplace Safety Insurance Board’s response to the SARS outbreak in 2006 and has since been commissioned by the United Nations to advise them on pandemic strategy. “Now, unfortunately, what I’ve been telling people to plan for and what was going to happen is what we are seeing now at a very escalated scale,” Bernier said.

“People should be planning for a more serious shutdown order to come in the coming days and weeks,” Bernier predicted. “And to be able to communicate to your employees that that may happen.” Bernier said advance notice to employees that they may have to stay home from work is important to keep their attention on the need to protect their families.

Rental stores should put internal procedures in place for frequent 20-second hand washing, especially after interacting with customers, Bernier said. And enhanced cleaning measures for the store should be taken on using stronger disinfectants.

“We will all get some kind of a case internally,” Bernier said. “Or even a rumour of someone who has been in contact with the coronavirus being in your space. We should be thinking about how we are going to deal with that now.” Bernier says areas that are suspected of being exposed to coronavirus should be locked down immediately and cleaned much more thoroughly than normal. If a worker reports sick, Bernier says stores need a plan in place to help them leave without delay.

Bernier calls hand sanitizer a “backup” and warns against using it instead of hand washing.

Communities are in what Bernier calls “mitigation and response” mode as opposed to any sort of attempt at prevention. “We were too late to stop it crossing our borders,” she says. “It’s here, it’s spreading in our communities.” She advises getting ahead of the next phase of the pandemic by planning now for how your company will recover once the movement restrictions are lifted.

“You will be required, depending on your geographic area, to scale down even more,” Bernier warns. “What happens when it is time to scale back up again and you have this backlog of work and orders? We need to be thinking of that ahead of time so we are not stuck in this reactive response mode.”

Chillingly, Bernier says historically there is a secondary spike in infections some days or weeks after the outbreak is initially controlled and people start to relax their vigilance.

When equipment is passed from one customer to another, Bernier says enhanced cleaning procedures are a must. The coronavirus is capable of surviving on a surface for several hours and could infect the next person using a machine if the last person had it.

“I know people need to have access to these resources and these pieces of equipment,” Bernier says. “But let’s look at creative ways, just for now, to reduce the amount of sharing that goes on. But immediately when a piece of equipment is done being used, before it is passed on to someone else, it needs to be cleaned.”

The full Counter Talks episode with Bernier will be released in the coming days.

 

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