Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘flexible’ have become commonplace as companies and businesses formulate plans for their staff to return to a work environment that’s going to be far different than the one many left when the pandemic first struck in March of last year.

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

“We’re seeing a ton of anxiety out there right now as more and more employers start thinking of having people come back to the office,” says Frank Newman, who operates Newman HR. 

 

A survey conducted by KMPG Canada in the spring as vaccinations began to ramp up showed that 81% of Canadian workers were worried their employers and managers were not equipped to handle a return to work properly, and nearly two thirds of those surveyed wanted to go back to their workplaces but COVID-19 remained their core reason for reluctance. In fact, 68% said that working alongside colleagues who may be sick or asymptomatic was a top concern.

 

People have gotten very comfortable and generally quite productive working at home,” says Frank, adding the comforts of home and no commuting have become big draws for many. “I would say people are 90% to 95% as productive as they were working in the office. But clearly, we’re missing some of those creative exchange of ideas that come from sitting next to someone or from random conversations.”

 

In effort to quell the concerns of returning employees, he has been recommending to clients they create an open dialogue with their team to identify their worries or fears.

 

“It’s a little like when an employee returns from a maternity or parental leave. We just assume everything is the same but what we don’t realize is that they have undergone a bit of profound psychological change and I think we kind of had that experience working at home,” says Frank. “Companies have to try and understand what might have happened in employees’ lives while they were away. Some of us may have had loss and some of us may have had catastrophic things happen.”

 

Therefore, he says employers need to create or enhance their Employee Assistance Plans, especially around access to counselling, financial or legal supports – not just health, RRSPs and dental benefits. 

 

“I think more companies have recognized how stressed people have been,” says Frank, noting some employees may be reluctant to access these supports fearing word may spread in the workplace. “These programs are run with the highest sense of ethics in place in terms that nothing gets shared, even with your HR department. There shouldn’t be any fear about utilizing an EAP program if you have one.”

 

As well, he says vaccination policies are a huge concern and appear to be ‘all over the map’ in some workplaces and stressed that whatever stance a company takes regarding its own policy, it should be clearly defined for the employees.

 

“You want to make sure you’re talking about why you’re doing a policy, regardless of what it is because people need to know,” says Frank. “We want to keep people feeling safe at work.”

 

He says optimism appears high right now regarding bringing workers back and expects to see even more people return starting in January.

 

“I’ve got clients in virtually every sector. And the most challenging time right now is in the restaurant and food services industry,” says Frank, explaining vaccination passports and the fact fewer people have been dining out are continuing factors hitting this industry hard.

 

Also, he says workplaces with an office and a production/manufacturing component also may see the natural divide between the two widen since the office workers likely were allowed to work from home during the pandemic.

 

“Companies have to be thoughtful about how they show appreciation to those people who’ve been at the workplace every day,” he says, adding celebrating the return of employees in a positive way would also be beneficial. “I like the idea of giving something tangible, like a gift card perhaps.”

 

Frank says connections must be cultivated as people return to their offices.

 

“What we’ve learned from this whole process is that finding ways to connect with people is so important,” he says.

 

For more information, visit Newman Human Resources or contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352.

 

Things for employers to consider as outlined by the Harvard Business Review:

 

Do:  

  • Ask - anonymously, if necessary – how people are feeling about returning to the office so you can respond directly to their concerns

  • Allow people to experiment with different ways of working so the shift to in-person or hybrid work doesn’t feel sudden. 

  • Continue to be compassionate — to your team members, and to yourself.

 

Don’t:  

  • Assume people are going to tell you that they’re feeling anxious

  • Neglect to make clear why in-person or hybrid work is beneficial to employees (not just to the company).

  • Make promises you can’t keep, such as assuring people their careers won’t be impacted by working from home or that they can do so indefinitely.

 

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The news we heard Thursday from Waterloo Region’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang was extremely disappointing to us. Our Board of Directors adamantly encourages all businesses to practice within the law but also echoes your concerns and disappointment at this decision.

 

In fact, officially, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce does not support Dr. Wang’s recommendation to keep the Waterloo Region in Stage 1 of Ontario’s reopening framework, considering the rest of the province will be moving into Stage 2 on June 30, an estimated two weeks ahead of our Region. As such, we would have preferred this move to Stage 2 remain on hold until Waterloo Region can catch up.

 

In fact, our Region did its best to help the province in the early stages of the third wave through the redirection of vaccines to hotspots around the GTA to curb the spread in those communities which significantly helped, but in the end proved detrimental to us, so it seems only fair to suggest some courtesy be extended to the citizens of Waterloo Region.

The Region has been calling for a ramp up of vaccine allocations and while that has started to occur, it is in fact a case of too little too late.

 

We understand the worries surrounding a possible fourth wave if dramatic steps are not taken and are very aware of the threat the Delta variant poses, especially amid troubling reports of people who are not following the provisions of the law by gathering in groups which in turn are creating community and workplace outbreaks. Currently, we are now seeing COVID-19 patients being transferred to hospitals outside our Region due to capacity concerns.

 

This is all very frustrating and discouraging to think that people would intentionally break the rules, risk lives, and in the end hurt businesses.

 

Our local Public Health officials have determined that if we do not hold back a bit, we will very likely see a fourth wave that could easily spread provincewide resulting in not only another round of restrictions, but another potential lockdown.

 

Keeping this in mind, we are continuing our efforts to fight for added supports from both the Federal and Provincial levels of government and calling for more vaccines so we can protect our community and get things open sooner. The Chamber will continue to do all it can to support, guide and advise to the best of its ability until this crisis finally comes to an end.

 

Sincerely,

 

Greg Durocher

President/CEO

 

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As vaccinations continue to rollout in the fight against COVID-19 and infection numbers in Ontario continue to drop the thought of reopening businesses and schools is on the minds of many.

 

After more than a year of restrictions and strict safety protocols the prospect of returning to the workplace looms closer, and for some, so does a growing sense of anxiety.

“There is quite a bit of apprehension around the thought of going back to work. It really depends on the person,” says Grace Brown, Clinical Supervisor/Registered Psychotherapist at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge and North Dumfries, explaining an extrovert, introvert or ambivert, will react differently.

 

“If you live in a very active community, you’re probably going to feel stronger and feel more prepared because you have supports – like child care – in place,” she says. “I also think the anxiety level will be determined by the safety protocols each organization has in place or is intending to put in place.”

 

Kate Urquhart, a Psychotherapy Clinical Intern at Carizon Family and Community Services in Kitchener, agrees.

 

“Having timely information is going to be such a key thing because there has been such ambiguity since the pandemic began,” she says, adding employers need to ensure they have a plan in place that can address the concerns of their returning employees. “People can’t plan if they don’t know what they’re getting into.”

 

Even with lower transmission rates and vaccinations, she says COVID-19 safety protocols will still be in place at workplaces when the province reopens and that these should be clearly conveyed.

 

“It’s about making sure those are clearly communicated so that people who have anxiety can feel confident their employer is taking all the appropriate precautions and that people with less COVID-19 anxiety must also follow those same protocols,” says Kate.

 

Grace says people should also know their own limits when it comes to dealing with this pandemic and that being proactive rather than reactive when the times to come to return to the workplace is the best way to reduce stress or apprehension. She suggests staying informed with the latest Ministry of Health recommendations is a good first step.

 

“It’s not going to be very helpful for people to reduce their anxiety if they are waiting for their boss to tell them what’s going to happen,” she says. “I think that is going to cause much more anxiety than if you researched on your own and know what your personal limits are and proceed accordingly.”

 

But even with proper safety protocols in place, walking back into the office may prove to be difficult for many says Carizon Psychotherapist Dan Young.

 

“Even though we may be going back to a situation that might be similar, we’ve all been changed by this,” he says, adding grief and loss will play roles as people come to terms with their emotions when they return to the workplace.

 

This could involve the tangible loss of a co-worker who passed away, or a potential career move an employee may feel they missed because they had to stay home to care for children or an elderly relative. As well, Dan says some employees may just no longer feel comfortable with the physicality of being around other people again in an office setting.

 

“For businesses, the challenge will be how do they recognize that they need to do something to support people,” he says. “There is no one size fits all.”

 

Kate says many returning employees may also suffer from ‘survivor’s guilt’.

 

“We’ve all been through, or are still going through, this huge worldwide traumatic event,” she says, adding some may feel they don’t have the right to complain when others appear to have lost so much more.

 

“I think that needs to be addressed. It’s OK for you to complain,” says Kate. “Everybody has lost something, and your losses are real for you. You need to come to terms with your own personal losses in order to take that step forward.”

 

She encourages employees to access potential workplace EAPs or mental health resources in order to find help.

 

“Even if you feel just a twinge, you don’t have to be in a crisis state to reach out,” she says.

Grace says reaching out to employers about instituting a gradual return to work can also be explored if someone who no longer can continue to work remotely is concerned about a sudden return to the office.

 

“It’s my hope this will open an ongoing dialogue and communication between employers and employees versus mandates that don’t take into account everyone’s different situation at home,” she says, adding empathetic employers will see higher productivity and better retention rates. “If an employee gets the sense an employer is very much just about producing that’s definitely going to feed into anxiety and stress.”

 

Dan says providing employees with choices is empowering and that changes in the workplaces should be expected.

 

“We know it’s not going to be the same,” he says. “We’re not going back to the way it was before.”

 

In preparation, Grace says everyone, especially those with children, should be talking about what life may look like when things begin to resemble ‘normal’ again.

 

“Talk to them about their concerns and expectations, even what they might be looking forward to because that may have to be adjusted as well,” she says, referring to the possible need to continue wearing masks in schools or getting vaccinations. “Communication is going to be very important.”

 

As well, talking to a professional counsellor is also a good option.

 

“Now is the time to connect with a counselling agency before the rush in order to not only prepare yourself, but provide support for your children,” says Grace. “Anxiety is a real thing and pretending it doesn’t exist actually makes it worse so everybody should start talking about the reservations they have and be supportive of each other.”

 

For more, visit https://fcccnd.com or https://www.carizon.ca

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It’s been just over a month since the first batch of rapid antigen screening kits were distributed to Waterloo Region SMEs through a pilot program created in partnership with the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce and Communitech.

 

And since that time, close to 2,000 of these SMEs (under 150 employees) are now offering their workers the opportunity to screen twice a week, with more placing their orders via our ‘www.chambercheck.ca’ (recent winner of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s Power of the Pivot Award) site every day as businesses continue to look for ways to navigate their way through this pandemic.

 

The program is now being rolled out provincially and nationally thanks to the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce who are currently working with other Chambers and government leaders to ensure all SMEs have access to this valuable ‘weapon’ in the fight against COVID-19.

 

“In my 20 years with the Chamber, I can’t think of another program in the Chamber Network that has had a much impact on business as this program has had,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “I’m so proud to be the Chamber where it started and was piloted because it gives me confidence in our ability to deliver national programs that are innovative.”

 

He says the need for rapid screening to identify those who are asymptomatic was first noted by members of the BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region) during the early days of the pandemic. The team, which Greg serves on with representatives from the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation, Great Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Communitech and Waterloo Regional Tourism Marketing Corporation, was formed 13 months ago to assist local businesses address COVID-19-related challenges.

 

“We knew testing and more testing was key when it comes to controlling the spread and understanding its impact on people and the economy,” says Greg, who credits Communitech President and CEO Iain Klugman with procuring the kits from the Federal Government who were distributing them at the provincial level in long-term care facilities and larger essential workplaces only.

 

“They (Province) really didn’t have a mechanism in place to get them out to smaller and medium-sized businesses,” he says, noting the two local Chambers joined forces to assist once the Province approved that screenings could be conducted by non-healthcare providers since the procedure is not as ‘evasive’ as a PCR test. The Abbott Panbio Antigen kits provided through the Chamber program are more than 90% effective.

 

“We knew we were part of a pilot project to determine if this was feasible and acceptable and workable in every jurisdiction in Canada,” says Greg, adding bringing the screening kits directly to workplaces rather than have employees visit a secondary location to be screened, was clearly the best option.

 

He likens the journey to building an airplane during mid-flight.

 

“We kind of built the program in real time, not unlike on what’s happened during the pandemic,” says Greg, adding the Chambers have also developed a ‘playbook’ which is being used as a guide for other Chambers to help them set up their own programs.

 

Locally, orders are placed at www.chambercheck.ca and volunteers prepare the kits for pick‐up at the Cambridge Chamber’s office at 750 Hespeler Rd. A representative from each SME responsible for supervising the self‐screening collection onsite is needed for the initial pick‐up and receives video training to properly supervise the screening process and safely dispose of the used kits. Each SME is required to electronically submit their screening results and the accumulated data is reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly. If a screen results in a positive for COVID‐19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test at an approved Public Health Collection Site and await further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“This program is not intended for employees working at home,” says Greg, noting Ontario’s current Stay at Home Order clearly indicates even those employed by an essential business, must work from home if they can. “They’re already  safe at home, so they shouldn’t be coming into the workplace.”

 

He says rapid screenings are voluntary and admits that some employees, for personal reasons, may be hesitant to take part.

 

“But you could remind them that it’s not about them, this is about the people who work around them,” says Greg, adding when someone tests negative, they feel more confident and comfortable working around others and being around their own families. “We’ve noticed through this whole process that this has become more of a mental health tool as much as it has become a medical tool.”

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When it comes to the battle against COVID-19, businesses need an arsenal of weapons at their disposal.  

 

One of the best, besides the necessary PPE, is contact tracing which is a core disease control measure.

 

“To reduce the spread of COVID-19 in a workplace, it is critical businesses conduct contact tracing,” says Dr. Ryan Van Meer, Associate Medical Officer of Health, Waterloo Region Public Health. “Businesses know where staff work, with whom, and when, and have means to contact staff who may have had close (high risk) contact in a prompt manner to instruct them to self-isolate and get tested.”

 

He says many workplaces are conducting contact tracing well, despite the fact there may be the perception it is difficult because it is typically done by nurses and other professionals.

 

“But many workplaces have gained experience with it over the pandemic and our COVID-19 Contact Tracing resource is an excellent tool to help guide them through the decision-making process,” says Dr. Van Meer.

 

At the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, we have partnered with Get Ready, a CBRN and Chamber Member, to provide an easy electronic screening tool to ensure the safety of our staff, customers, visitors and contractors, entering our office. The tool utilizes a quick scan of a ‘QR Code’ on their mobile devices or desktops which provides all the necessary information that Public Health will require for contact tracing purposes should an employee get sick or exposed to the virus in the workplace.  The province of Ontario has required all workplaces to implement daily screening for any workers or essential visitors entering the work environment.

 

Dr. Van Meer says the Region has resources in place to assist workplaces.

 

“Our guide for workplaces helps employers determine who is a close (high risk) contact that needs to self-isolate and get tested,” he says, adding there are other ‘upstream’ public health measures workplaces can use to prevent high risk contact. These include physical distancing, PPE, preventing close contact during lunches and breaks, as well as environmental cleaning and disinfection.

 

Dr. Van Meer says when there are multiple confirmed cases in a workplace, the Region’s Workplace Team follows up directly with the employer to support contact tracing and ensures Public Health measures are in place to prevent further spread.

 

“We currently have approximately 135 staff supporting case and contact management across all settings, as well as additional support from the province,” says Dr. Van Meer, adding there are steps employers must take if a worker tests positive for the virus. “Workplaces should work with their employee who is a confirmed case and consult the Contact Tracing guide for workplaces to determine who would have had close (high risk) contact with the case during the period the case was infectious and instruct those contacts to self-isolate and get tested.”

 

For more information on the Region of Waterloo’s COVID-19 resources for workplaces, visit: https://bit.ly/2ODUWEx

 

To learn more about the ‘Get Ready’ screening tool for your office, please visit: https://bit.ly/3euKYQQ

 

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This year, the conversations around proper mental health resources and funding are more important than ever.  A recent poll shows that 40 percent of Canadians have reported their mental health declining over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the continued enormous pressure and strain families, employees and employers have been dealing with. There is no question this pandemic has taken a toll and as we continue to navigate a second wave and ongoing lockdowns, now more than ever it is important we take a moment to remember our own needs and support each other to get through these challenging times. While we are physically apart, no one is alone when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

 

We have put together a list of resources that business owners, employers and employees can use to help navigate and manage mental health when it comes to our daily lives, the workplace and longer term tips and tricks. You can take a look at our full list of health resources here and even more resources from Bell, here.

 

Wellness Together Canada

Wellness Together Canada provides mental health resources and direct access to peer support workers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential chat sessions or phone calls.

 

Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a hub of credible information and resources about maintaining mental health during this time of crisis and supporting people managing a mental illness in this new context.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health by Canada Life

Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health website is a leading source of free, practical tools and resources designed to help Canadian employers with the prevention, intervention and management of workplace mental health issues.

 

Lumino Health Stress and Anxiety Guide from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Lumino Health platform, which is free to use and available to all Canadians, features a wide variety of mental health information and tools, including a Stress and Anxiety Guide that helps Canadians easily navigate to resources that fit their needs.

 

Workplace Mental Health Solutions from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Solutions website provides organizations and their plan members with relevant resources that support all stages and needs, including free mental health e-training and industry-leading thought leadership.

 

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Life must find a way to continue, even during a pandemic.

 

For those hoping to get married, or sadly for those faced with the loss of a loved one, having to navigate these important life-changing events in this COVID-19 world may appear exceptionally more difficult.

 

“I really feel like the rug has been pulled out from under all our couple’s feet because they’ve been planning this beautiful day for so long,” says Vanessa Davis, Executive Special Events Consultant for Pearle Hospitality, referring to those faced with altering wedding plans at the company’s many well-known properties which includes the Cambridge Mill and Whistle Bear Golf Club. “The part that I’ve been hearing that is the hardest for people has been the not knowing.”

 

She estimates COVID-19 has affected at least 500 weddings planned at Pearle Hospitality properties.

 

“In March and April, we were under mandated closures so there really were no options,” says Vanessa, adding that changed a few weeks ago.  

 

As of June 13, indoor wedding and funeral venues were allowed to operate at a maximum of 30% capacity, with outdoor ceremonies limited to 50 attendees. Receptions remain limited to the 10-person restriction. 

 

And for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies, those attending must follow proper health and safety advice, including practising physical distancing from people who are not from the same household or their established 10-person social circle. 

 

These changes mean couples looking to marry are now faced with making new decisions and left asking many questions.

 

“What will it be like? That’s a really challenging thing people for people to deal with right now,” says Vanessa. “It’s very emotional for them. They’re weighing a lot of positives and negatives because it’s not what they originally wanted.”

 

She says some have decided to postpone until they can stick with their original plans, while others for personal and even cultural reasons, are choosing to go ahead and hold a smaller gathering.

 

“They may decide to have a virtual ceremony they can share with guests near and far on the planned wedding day and have a reception at a later time,” says Vanessa. “I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. It’s whatever they’re going to feel the most comfortable and happy with.”

 

Virtual ceremonies have become a popular alternative for not only weddings, but also funerals as industry experts do what they can to ensure their clients’ needs are met.

“One of the jobs of a funeral director is not just helping people co-ordinate a funeral that’s unique and personalized, but to provide them with all the information so they can make an informed decision,” says Jon Rolleman, Managing Funeral Director of Coutts Funeral Home in south-end Cambridge.

 

When it comes to planning a funeral during COVID-19, he and others in his industry have also quickly learned to pivot in wake of strict health restrictions.

 

Through the course of the pandemic, Jon says many clients chose direct cremation or immediate burial for their loved ones due to the uncertainty of the situation, while others chose to have a limited number of immediate family members take part in a visitation.

 

“They still got to have the closure they wanted, and I think some people weren’t even expecting to have that opportunity,” he says.

 

Like those in the wedding industry, Jon says his business practices have also been modified to provide more virtual options including a webcast of the burial service.

“It’s nice to be able to provide that to the people who otherwise couldn’t come,” he says, noting Coutts Funeral Home also ensures through its online condolences system the bereaved know who attended the virtual service. “That way they can still reach out individually and still have the support they need.”

 

For additional support, Jon says his clients also can utilize a compassion ‘helpline’ on the Coutts Funeral Home website that provides 24-hour access to a variety of services, including certified grief professionals and psychologists. The service is offered through its parent company Dignity Memorial. 

 

“We have some really amazing benefits from being part of a such a large network of funeral homes,” he says, adding they have seen an increase in usage of the helpline during this time. “It’s nice to know it’s there and we get to offer that to our clients.”

As well, clients of Coutts Funeral Home can also make arrangements online, however, Jon says many still prefer the more ‘personal’ touch of a face-to-face meeting.

 

“We leave it up to them,” he says. “We prefer in person because there is so much more of an individual connection and that’s a big part of what we do.”

 

Despite creating new options and working within the ongoing restrictions, Jon says his key role and that of his team has remained the same throughout the pandemic.

“Obviously, our job is more empathy and compassion than anything else and making someone’s difficult time easier and the way we approach a family has never changed,” he says.

 

And with new safety protocols in place, which includes very specific physical distancing rules at visitations and following a series of guidelines, such as collecting information for potential contact tracing purposes, Jon and has team have learned to adapt very quickly.

 

“Personally, I’m very adaptive so it didn’t stress me out,” he says. “A big part of my role has been making sure I get all this information to my staff and help them manage the changes quickly and make sure their comfortable with the new systems.”

 

They keep the capacity of mourners at 50 invited guests if a service is requested to take place at a church, or in a cemetery, which Jon says is quite manageable. 

 

“We want to do our part for the community,” he says, referring to keeping people safe. “It’s a real balance to be able to give families what they need.”

 

Jon says the need for a funeral is imperative in the grieving process and feels sorry for those who decide to forgo that option. 

 

“People are justifying things in different ways for what they’re doing, but they’re really depriving themselves of what a funeral is and what it stands for and how it helps,” says Jon. 

“They’re depriving themselves of that opportunity, so I’m concerned about people’s mental health going forward.”

 

To rectify this issue, he hopes to be able to offer an ‘open’ memorial service, perhaps several, for those clients who have lost someone during the COVID-19 crisis and chose not to have a funeral.

 

“At least people who didn’t do anything can have a more formalized service,” says Jon, adding funerals are a celebration of life and are no longer ‘traditional’ as they once were. “Funerals are much more personalized and unique. Our job now is to give clients all the options so they can make informed decisions that are right for them.”

 

The same sentiment holds true when it comes to planning a wedding, especially during a crisis like COVID-19.

 

“My biggest piece of advice is that whatever they decide to do it’s going be great,” says Vanessa. “If the couple decides they want an intimate ceremony with 10 of their closest people, their other friends and family will understand. And if they decide to wait another year and do the party as planned, that’s a beautiful idea too.”

 

For more, visit pearlehospitality.ca or  dignitymemorial.com

 

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When COVID-19 struck and Ontario went into lockdown many beds at the two shelters the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region operates were left empty.

 

However, this was not something that CEO Jennifer Hutton admits she was glad to see.

 

“We really saw a significant decrease,” she says, referring to the number of women and children who seek refuge from domestic abuse at Haven House in Cambridge and Anselma House in Kitchener. “But what was keeping me up at night was worrying about what was actually going on in those homes. The abuse that was pre-existing was likely worsening, especially when you add in the additional stress and financial worries.”

 

Jennifer estimates the shelters, which provide 90 beds between them, saw their occupancy rates drop in the early weeks of the crisis to around 40% to 50% capacity compared to the usual 90% as well as a reduction in calls to access their resources. 

 

“There’s research to prove that violence against women does tend to increase during times of stress,” she says, adding there was a great deal of uncertainty when the pandemic struck which made it even more difficult. “There are already so many barriers in place for a woman to leave an abusive relationship. Then layer it with increased uncertainty, and often women have to think about their children, so it’s hard for them to plan for the future.”

 

Besides encouraging via social media for friends and family to check in with loved ones they fear might be at risk of abuse, the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region launched a chat feature on its website to provide women with a tool to safely connect with their services.

 

“There had been talk about it (chat feature) but now more than ever we needed to do it quickly,” says Jennifer, noting the system was up and running within a 48-hour period. “Now, a woman might be able to pull up our website discreetly on her phone and send us a quick message.”

 

Having the ability to reach out and connect during the pandemic is vital says Grace Brown, a psychotherapist and PAR (Partner Assault Response Program) Facilitator at Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries. 

 

“One of the key factors that allows the abuse to continue is the person feels isolated,” she says.

 

In terms of isolation, Grace says feelings of loneliness is something she has been seeing during her counselling sessions, which have been conducted virtually or by phone, as the COVID-19 situation continues. 

 

“A lot of clients I work with talk about intense feeling of loneliness and isolation because before the pandemic they could be out with friends and doing all these fun things to offset this solitude,” she says. “If you’re more on the extrovert side of the scale, you’re probably struggling a little more.”

 

Grace says for single people who have been isolating on their own, they face a variety of anxieties which could lead to depression. And for couples who were having challenges in their relationship prior to the pandemic, she says the crisis likely has made the situation even worse.

 

“There’s only so much walking away one can do when you’re supposed to be quarantined,” says Grace, adding couples need healthy communication during this time. “Choose your battles.”

 

She offers similar advice to families, who also may find nerves becoming frayed as physical distancing rules continue to slowly ease.

 

“For most, it’s the lack of access to external fun things that really are making so many people frustrated and anxious,” says Grace. “In the old days, it was called ‘Cabin Fever’.”

But she says there are many successful examples of things couples and families have been doing to cope, besides connecting virtually with family and friends. 

 

“People have really been recapturing some of those old school entertainments, like jigsaw puzzles and board games. It’s been really neat to hear from some of my clients on how they’re making it work with that they have at home,” says Grace, adding some ‘super busy’ families are appreciating the fact they can take a break together.

She says self-care is essential at this time, starting with the basics like eating healthy, exercising and getting the right amount of sleep.

 

“I often describe it to my clients as emotional shock absorbers. Stress is always going to be in our world in varying degrees, so the more you have self-care that’s your shock absorber,” says Grace, explaining self-care comes in many different forms. “It’s really about focusing on yourself for a moment and doing anything that brings you a sense of calm and a sense of renewed energy.”

 

She tells her clients, especially women, that’s it OK to put their needs first once and awhile. 


“I caution them this (pandemic) is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and we don’t know how long it’s going to last so you’ve got to preserve your energy.”

 

At Haven House and Anselma House, Jennifer says, as predicted, capacity levels have climbed sharply to near capacity in the last few weeks once the province began to reopen. She says strict protocols are in place to keep staff and clients healthy, including temperature checks twice daily and making masks mandatory for all staff members.

 

“The shelters themselves are very busy,” says Jennifer, explaining the women and children staying there aren’t venturing as much into the community to connect with family and friends due to the pandemic. “There’s a lot of activity and not many places for them to go, and we have some pretty stringent rules in place.”

 

Despite COVID-19 and the precautions, she encourages women who are experiencing domestic abuse to reach out, even those who may not be sure if they’re ready to leave.

“That’s OK. They may just want to meet with someone to ask questions, or get some information,” says Jennifer, adding the Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region offers outreach programs. “I always suggest they get some guidance on how to make a safe exit plan.”

 

She says research shows the most dangerous time for an abuse victim is when they are planning their escape.

 

“It can become quite unsafe for a woman if her abusive partner thinks she is going to leave,” says Jennifer. “Things can really escalate at that time.”

 

Visit  wcswr.org  or fcccnd.com for more information. 

 

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