Sunday, October 24, 2021

As the Lockdown eases, how do you deal with your house help returning to work?

If you are generous enough, get your house help tested before they resume work, writes Dr Noor Gill. Some hospitals provide free Covid-19 testing.

We are all confined to our homes, clinging onto whatever flicker of hope that we have left, that maybe this time, they will not come to us with the news of yet another extension.Praying that the authorities will show some leniency and give us a chance to prove that we can be good citizens by restoring partial, if not full commencement and distribution  of services. In a hope that maybe, by the end of May, things will go back to ‘normal’. Bargaining with the Supreme Power to not let it go any further than mid-June. But what is this normal that we will be going back to? What parts of our previous practices should we take with us to the future. What things should we learn form our ‘current normal’ and carry them forward with us, once this is all over.

The lockdown has been extended for the second time by the government and the home ministry has demarcated the country into three zones:

Green zone: Zero or no confirmed cases in the past 21 days

Red zone: Districts and areas with a significant risk of transmission of infection

Orange zone: Anything between the red and the green zone lies in the orange zone.

If you think about it, and try to introspect: you have already started washing your hands less now, than you used to in the beginning. Earlier, you used to go out once every two weeks for grocery shopping but now you go out twice every week. You are less scared if someone’s not wearing a mask, less hesitant while shaking hands.

In the beginning of this crisis, our brain processed this information as “high risk” which made us over-estimate the danger (this is no way implies that the situation is not serious). But as we start to get used to living in this “new normal” our perception of the risk decreases as time passes. This is also knows as “Behavioral fatigue”.

Everything about everything is changing but we still make out coffee, first thing in the morning just as we used to and solve the daily crossword as we sip into it, in defiance of that.

We are all struggling together to find the new definition, another angle, a fresh perspective to the “new normal”. While we hesitantly let go of our “regular routines” and placidly try to find our way through this “new normal”. Here are a few things that could help you and get you started.

When your house help comes back, let’s be kind to them, because these past few weeks have made us realise that we depend on them more than we would like to admit. They are an integral part of our system, and we need to start respecting and treating them like they are.

Ask them if they or any members of their family has had any symptoms or been sick in the past two weeks. Be polite when you ask them, because if they feel threatened and have the fear of losing their job at the back of their mind, they might lie, and we don’t want that.

If you are generous enough, get them tested before they resume work. Some hospitals provide free Covid-19 testing.

Make sure that both you and them wash your hands before and after entering the kitchen, before and after cleaning, moping, dusting, eating etc. Let’s keep washing our hands and keeping our surroundings cleans and sanitized even after it is not an order.

Let us not stigmatise and be prejudiced against those who have fought the virus but are now all better and back. The virus is contagious, yes. But once the person has tested negative and has been discharged, he does not pose a threat to you or your family. So let’s try to make them feel welcome and included and not banish them.

When we do start going back to work instead of working from the comforts of our sofas, and using public transport for commuting- please keep in mind that you still need to wear your superhero suit which is your mask and gloves. Surgical masks are 85% effective in keeping the microorganisms away, and N-95 masks, 95%.

When taking a cab or sharing one, avoid touching any surface or another passenger. Keep your face, eyes and hands covered. Sanitize your bag once you’ve reached your destination.

Use disposable gloves and masks. But if you think that that is wasteful and not environment-friendly and wish to use a washcloth instead of a mask, make absolutely sure that you wash it separately as soon as you get back home, in warm detergent water. And put it out for drying in direct sunlight for 3-4 hours before you use it again.

When you are on your way back and are about to reach home, call and ask someone to keep the doors and gate open and a bucket of warm detergent water ready for you to use.

Put your personal belongings like keys, bag, water bottle, etc out in a separate poly bag and sanitize them separately before bringing them inside your home and using them. Go straight to the bathroom- don’t touch any surface or door knobs, and in case you do, clean it with a disinfectant immediately. Strip, wash your clothes and take a shower. And only then meet and greet all the other members of your family. I know all of this sounds tedious and a lot of work, but survival is hard. And these are some hard, crazy and trying times.

Avoid cash payments as much as you can, whenever you can. Go cashless and try making card transactions as much as you can- this lessens the risk of transmission during the handling of money.

Avoid having too many guests over for parties and get together. Or sending and receiving dishes- as kind as the gesture is, it is better to avoid having things over from outside, because you don’t know where they’ve been and how they have been handled.

If you have to travel internationally, keep your protective gear on, even during the flight. Home quarantine yourself for 14 days once you’ve reached your destination and keep a look out for any symptoms.

Keep eating better and healthy and keeping yourselves hydrated, we still need a strong immune system. Try not stressing yourself out worrying about the future, because there lies a lot of uncertainty and an array of scenarios that may or may not come true. These are stressful times, but stress ironically is not good for your immune system and that, I know instills more worry, so try some chamomile tea, and hope that it helps.

Once this is all over, let’s not take handshakes and hugs for granted. Let’s cherish every lingering moment of contact with another fellow human. Let’s start valuing human contact and life, and be thankful to the medical community and those providing us with the essential services. Let’s never, after we are done fighting this, even for a slash of a second think that we are the “superior species” because nature has its own way of humbling us.


Stay home. Stay safe.

Dr Noor Gill
Dr Noor Gill, MBBS, deciphers the space between heartbeats, figuratively and literally. Powered by frequent long naps and caffeine, she believes that “knowledge without giving back to society is meaningless” and works to make caring cool again.

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  1. Hi you have given the guidelines for a house member what about senior citizen? What they shld do as they are not going out how to call house help to do routine work with them ? Just washing hands & keeping distance will solve this ? Thanks

  2. Let’s be realistic!!!
    Most of the house helps already know that we very heavily depend on them. So there is no question of being rude to them even if they leave the utensils half cleaned, food undercooked, clothes dirty!
    It’s not them who ever feel threatened but rather they keep us “threatened”. So just let them come to your house and work normally otherwise “Saab doosri bai dhoondh lo, main kaal se nahi aane wali”

  3. Hi,
    I was forwarded the text of this article by my parents (71 and 62, diabetic, blood pressure patient and high cholesterol). While well meaning, it’s a very irresponsible article and does not warn sufficiently against the risk of getting outsiders into your house. If you want to test them, you should be testing them every other day as they venture outside of your controlled environment. There is also no warning about red zones. If your house help stays in a red zone, they will be in and out every day from that zone, increasing the risk of infection, which in the case of most seniors is a life threatening risk.
    Instead of offering amateur advice like “test” them, as a doctor, it’s your responsibility to explain the risks, as also the need to test almost on a daily basis. An article about cleaning without hurting your back and knees would be more appropriate. Or, now that no essentials can be purchased, links and pictures to items that would ease the physical burden on seniors would’ve been great.
    I do not mean to offend anyone, but I’m appalled at the level of risk you’re advising seniors to take.
    Thanks and regards

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