Stuart Myers, B.C. Ambulance Service worker and regional vice-president of CUPE 873, and his peers have had to deal with both COVID-19 and the opioid overdose crises. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Labour Day: Working safely means extra steps in COVID-19 times

Paramedics, school support staff and others adjust to new procedures to keep people healthy and safe

With many workers seeing added duties and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more reason to show appreciation this Labour Day.

Members of the B.C. Ambulance Service are among front-line workers who not only have to deal with coronavirus, but also opioid overdoses. Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said the provincially declared emergencies are only two of the pressures facing members across the province.

“I describe it as three major crises right now,” said Clifford. “On top of COVID we have the long-standing opioid … issues and tragedies around that. As well, we’re dealing with natural disasters that we seem face every summer with the firestorms and wildfires in the Interior and other seasons we deal with flooding. Those are normal – if you can call it normal – for us, but right now, with the enhanced, unfortunate increases in overdoses, it’s really added extra stress on top of where we’re at.”

In terms of the opioid crisis, Stuart Myers, advanced care paramedic in Nanaimo and regional vice-president for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C, said ambulance workers are seeing issues with drugs laced with fentanyl.

“It’s not just the opioid users,” said Myers. “What we’re seeing is those people that are using cocaine or methamphetamine, the drugs are tainted and they’re getting an opioid by mistake and a lot of what we’re seeing now is cardiac arrests and respiratory arrests from people that certainly aren’t expecting to be using it. It’s added, certainly, to our stress loads, our fatigue.”

RELATED: B.C. reports 68 new COVID-19 cases, releases city-level data

Those challenges are happening at a time when there are also additional safety precautions being taken with personal protective equipment such as masks, face shields and gowns. Myers said he is grateful for the PPE, but it can affect emergency calls.

“The challenges are certainly in communication,” said Myers. “With the respirator, the communication is very muffled, so we have to be very deliberate about what we say, how we say it and it’s changed the way we do business, it’s changed our procedures. There was a moment there when [the pandemic was first declared] that our updates were changing daily. Some of that has settled as our curve has flattened somewhat, but we’re always expecting change.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also affected schools in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district. Education support workers had to ensure classrooms were well-sanitized after in-class instruction restarted in June after a two-month hiatus.

Rob Zver, CUPE Local 606 president, said his membership, which includes janitorial and maintenance staff and education assistants, had everyone’s safety at the top of their minds.

“They had to be careful about watching to make sure people were not sick … everybody was on alert and keeping the buildings clean,” he said. “I can say with our janitors doing their jobs, it proves that if we take the time, we can provide a safe environment. It’s up to us to ensure we follow the rules so that we keep everybody safe and I give them all kudos for doing that.”

The union president pointed to no cases of COVID-19 in the school district.

“For the students that were there … we proved that if we take the safety precautions, it can be done safely,” said Zver.

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RELATED: SD68 considers COVID-19 lessons in fall planning

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