Keep high-risk household employees and family members safe from COVID-19 (Part 1 of 2, plus podcast)


Medical doctor and Occupational Medicine specialist, Dr Odette Volmink, talks to Discovery about minimising exposure to COVID-19 for high-risk household employees and members of the household. She also shares excellent, practical tips we can all use in our homes.

How do we protect high-risk members of the family from exposure to COVID-19?

We must look at our specific circumstances. If a high-risk family member can be isolated in a specific part of the house – ideally with their own bathroom and toilet – we can minimise their interaction with the household employees and others who might put them at risk. If this is not possible, we can ask the household employee to stay within a specific part of the house to do their work, if need be. We need to be creative around solutions that increase distance between the high-risk member of the household and others in the home who could expose them to COVID-19.

The areas of the home where they are cared for need to be well-ventilated, and the high-risk family member and anyone who cares for them must wash their hands with soap and water often.

What should employers know about giving employees sick leave during a pandemic?

People are struggling quite a bit with this question. During this time, it’s important that every employer – whether a household or business employer – has sensible policies in place about sick leave and family responsibility leave for their employees. Sick leave needs will be heightened because those who test positive for COVID-19 need at least 10 days of self-isolation. If an employee has been in direct contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, they will need at least 14 days of self-quarantine. These periods need to be made available to the employee. The Department of Employment and Labour has instructed that this time should be taken as sick leave. We also need to be flexible about additional burdens on our employees to look after sick family members or children. Once again, we come back to the need for really open and healthy communication between the employer and employee.

Giving household employees access to private primary healthcare

Q: Most household employees access healthcare through state facilities, which are overburdened at the best of times, and more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. Discovery Primary Care for Household Employees is a product that gives household employees and their dependants access to private primary healthcare, for only R249 a month. This offers a range of day-to-day medical benefits and access to the WHO Global Outbreak benefit, that provides funding for testing and out-of-hospital treatment for confirmed cases of COVID-19. Do you think that household employers should consider ways to help their employees to access various healthcare options where possible, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dr Volmink: Indeed, access to healthcare can be a challenge in our setting, particularly at this point in time. So, where alternatives can be secured for employees, I think it’s great to do so. These services may allow employees to access assessment and testing where it’s needed, and quite promptly. Although these medical services are already available within the public healthcare system, there are some challenges, such as long waiting times with regard to getting COVID-19 or other medical test results. This could sometimes hinder the effect of management of the employees’ health or delay the beginning of their self-isolation period. It's also an ideal time, for those employers who are able to, to explore the healthcare services the employee has access to and where public and private healthcare options may be able to work together. It’s also very important to make sure that the services offered to employees are sustainable for continual care, particularly with regard to patients who take medicine for chronic conditions.

How can employers help their household employees who develop symptoms of COVID-19?

We should all save the COVID-19 Public Hotline number – 0800 029 999 – on our phones. By calling in, we can access medical advice, if we are symptomatic. If we develop symptoms, it’s essential that we are assessed medically and guided as to whether we need to be referred for testing by our medical or treating practitioner. Any household employee or member of the family who has symptoms of COVID-19 should self isolate away from the household in a safe space until their results are available so that further management of the person’s symptoms can be done.

It’s essential that our employees have a supportive person – the employer or a member of their family – who can help them if their symptoms get worse, to assist in getting them the medical help that they need.

  • According to advice given on the state’s 24-hour COVID-19 Public Hotline, household employees must first phone ahead to their clinic and notify them of possible symptoms of COVID-19. They must then travel to the clinic for a physical assessment, all while practising preventive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19. This includes wearing a mask, keeping at least 1.5 metres away from other people and avoiding contact with commonly touched surfaces.
  • Did you know that all South African household employers and their employees have access to free COVID-19 Online Doctor Consultations? Contact a healthcare professional for a text, voice call or video call consultation, either on the Discovery or Vodacom websites, without having to travel to a healthcare facility. You will be guided as to what to do if you have any possible symptoms of COVID-19.

With the right preventive measures in place, can high-risk household employees work and remain safe and healthy?

Absolutely. For us make sure our homes are a safe environment for our high-risk employees and family members, we need to be able to speak to them openly about COVID-19. We need to work together to identify areas of risk and come up with a strategy to reduce the risk of exposure in the household, making sure that everyone is on board and that we have a collaborative working arrangement with our employees. The COVID-19 pandemic gives us an ideal opportunity to develop these kinds of relationships in our household with our household employees.

From R249 per month, you can get primary healthcare cover for your household employees

Discovery Primary Care for household employees allows you to provide your domestic worker, gardener, driver, caregiver or nanny with access to basic private healthcare including nurse and GP consultations, dentist and optometrist visits, wellness screenings and HIV management.

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