COVID-19: living in interesting times

Nicola Ackerman
Monday, March 2, 2020

Life shouldn't feel normal right now, so if your life feels normal, are you doing the right thing? — to paraphrase Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's First Minister. The world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it's turning our lives upside down. Store shelves are depleted, streets are quiet, and the skies are surprisingly clear. It's surreal to consider that each and every one of you reading this will be touched in some way by this crisis — we are separated geographically, and many are isolated, but we are also together, facing this as a global community. Suddenly we all know more about coronaviruses than we ever imagined, and while this is grabbing our attention, it is also threatening our wellbeing and our economic future.

Many practices are struggling to obtain consumables such as syringes, needles and disinfectants, so normal running of the practice is impossible. With pregnant women and over 70s at home, and schools around the world closed, staff shortages are forcing some practice branches to shut and non-essential appointments to be to cancelled.

The RCVS and the BVA have released a joint statement regarding government guidance about who qualifies as ‘key workers’. Key workers can continue to send their children to school — but there is a need to keep the number of children at school as low as possible because of the need for social distancing. Veterinary nurses have not been included; this does not mean that they are not important. The guidance emphasises that if children can be at home then they should be, in order to help to prevent the virus from spreading. According to the RCVS/BVA, veterinary surgeons working in food production from ‘farm to fork’ are considered to be key workers. This includes: farm vets and Official Veterinarians working in the food chain, including abattoir and other related inspection and certification work. In addition, as it is important that animal owners are able to focus on their own health, and not worry about their pets, veterinary surgeons providing essential emergency care can be considered key workers. The BVNA, RCVS and BVA are working together to get practices classed as ‘business critical’ — this would ensure that in the event of a lockdown practices would be able to maintain a service.

Practices staying open will need to ensure they consider social distancing: this means closure of waiting rooms and owners admitted directly from their cars. Anyone needing to pick up medications or pet food should ring beforehand so that they can limit time spent at the practice. Electronic payments only — no cash! Signatures should be avoided as much as possible and if required the pen should be disinfected. If possible cohort staff — if groups of staff can be kept together then this might reduce the risk of large numbers going off sick. If possible set up a telemedicine system. And be diligent about disinfection of all contact points for the sake of all staff and clients.

The practice website can include appropriate advice for owners. They should: ensure they have enough medication and food; think about what will happen to their pets should they become unwell; and decide who can make any decisions regarding their pet should they be absent. Owners should be encouraged to keep exercising their pets — discussion of environmental enrichment might help.

Like the rest of our global communities, we will be considering ways to help promote wellbeing, to support recovery, and to take care of those around us. In the UK, remember that Vetlife is available for support:

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