“You are all heroes in this global pandemic”

gmcneil Occupational Health & Safety

On behalf of CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador I personally want to thank all CUPE members for doing their part in this complex and unprecedented situation.

CUPE members are doing critical work across the province, especially our frontline health care workers. Thank you for your dedication to your work, and the extraordinary effort that you deliver each day. To quote our National President, Mark Hancock, “you are all heroes in this global pandemic.”

I have been working with other unions and government daily to ensure we are doing what is best for you and your families. We need health care workers to be as protected as can be from COVID-19.

Just this week we agreed to a Good Neighbour Agreement that was signed by all four health care unions. We are continuing our work to secure adequate Personal Protective Equipment and PPE training and fit testing for those who need it.

Also this week we helped to secure child care for our essential workers. You can find out more including how to apply on the government website: https://www.gov.nl.ca/covid-19/essential-worker-child-care-service-application-form/.

As many of you know, I am a health care worker. I worked through SARS and H1N1, which were both difficult to work through, and I know the risk and the anxiety during this current pandemic is even higher.

CUPE NL has been monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic closely and working with the evolving changes that are happening daily.

CUPE NL Executive Board are here for all of you in these difficult days. Please do not hesitate to reach out.

Below is some occupational health and safety information that will be of interest to members on the frontlines, and also those of you who have concerns or questions about transmission of the virus.

Brothers, Sisters and Friends — Stronger Together.


Sherry Hillier
President, CUPE NL


Q & A for frontline workers on COVID-19

Can the virus live on our uniforms?

This is a common question and one of some debate since clothing can be made of many different materials and weaves. In general, viruses can live for hours or days on some surfaces, assuming it has a stable environment. Movement, friction and temperature changes can all potentially shorten the lifespan of a virus outside a human host.

To avoid contamination on clothing health care workers should be using disposable gowns to cover their regular clothing when in contact with individuals with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The virus is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The droplets can also be spread through certain aerosol-generating medical procedures. If these risk factors or any others are present use a gown.

Can the virus live on the soles of our shoes?

A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine looked at how long the virus could live on various surfaces. It found that the virus could live for up to three days on plastics like water bottles. Given that shoes are created from various rubbers, plastics and other materials, and many are more porous than a plastic bottle, it’s reasonable to look at three days as a maximum for a surface such as a sneaker.

However, the life span of the virus is reduced by temperature changes, which would be likely to occur on a shoe people wear outside of home. While the virus living on the surface of a shoe is possible, it is not a likely source of transmission for several reasons. First, the virus is spread by respiratory droplets which would need to find their way from an infected person to a shoe. From there it would need a stable environment in order to survive, which is unlikely on a shoe as forces such as gravity will continue working on the droplets, eventually bringing them to rest on the ground. Most importantly, for the respiratory droplet to infect another person it would need to find its way from the shoe to a person’s mucus membrane, which is highly unlikely (often through the mouth, but a virus can enter through the eyes and nose as well).

What types of precautions can we take if we don’t have Personal Protective Equipment?

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must be used anytime we are coming into contact with an individual that is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19. That PPE would include a mask, gown, gloves and eye protection (face shield or goggles). There is no substitute for PPE and any members being asked to work without appropriate PPE are reminded that they have a right to refuse unsafe work. More on that here: https://cupe.ca/refusing-unsafe-work-its-your-right.

When can we use the Right to Refuse?

You have the right to refuse unsafe work if you have reasonable cause to believe the work could endanger your health and safety. A work refusal, for example, might be related to PPE either not being available when needed, or being provided with PPE that you have not been trained on.

Would a mixture of bleach and water in a spray bottle be sufficient to clean the bottom of shoes?

Yes, bleach is an effective disinfectant when used in the proper concentrations. The CDC in the US has a good resource for identifying the best cleaning products and concentrations to use on various surfaces: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html.

What can we use for cleaning personal items if Lysol wipes are not available?

The CDC resources on cleaning and disinfecting has good guidance on practices for cleaning and disinfecting various surfaces: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cleaning-disinfection.html.

To prevent the risk of infection from any surface it is highly advisable to not touch your face until you have washed your hands after touching any item or surface that you have not cleaned yourself. Good advice is to pretend everything you touch is raw chicken and wash your hands appropriately.

Can we get the virus from or pass the virus to pets? 

There is no evidence to suggest that pets can be infected with or be carriers for the virus. This is a pervasive myth on social media but has no scientific basis.

Does the virus live on your hair?

No studies so far have looked specifically at the ability of the novel coronavirus to live on human hair, but based on available information it’s not a likely source of transmission. Viruses tend to live longer on non-porous surfaces (like stainless steel), whereas most human hairs are quite porous and as part of a living organism, have some degree of antimicrobial properties. That being said; there is so much variety in human hair it would be a sensible precaution to wash your hair if you feel there was any chance it was exposed to someone’s respiratory droplets.

Should we shower every day after work?

If PPE is utilized when in the vicinity of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the worker is properly trained in donning and doffing procedures, then no. That being said; no precaution is perfect and all plans are subject to human error so if available, a shower after work would offer an extra degree of certainty that you are not unknowingly carrying respiratory droplets somewhere on your body.