Straight Talk: Navigating COVID-19 guidance

It’s been incredibly difficult to keep up with COVID-19 guidance – but how have people with learning disabilities navigated the changes? Andrew Spernick, an expert by experience and quality checker at Choice Support, shares his view.

It was really hard for me during lockdown when I couldn’t go out as normal for almost two years. I did at least feel safe during that time because support staff sorted everything out and arranged activities for me. They wore facemasks and adhered to social distancing rules whenever they could.

It was difficult to stay in touch with friends and neighbours because I had to stay in my own flat. I got fed up with my own company. I could only fall out with myself, which is good actually! At least you can then stay friends with other people.

I’ve had no information from anywhere regarding the recent changes in the Government’s ‘Living with COVID-19’ document. They said COVID-19 isn’t going away – but that it’s manageable due to the vaccine. The vaccination programme is confusing because you must be vaccinated every so often. So, if, like me, you’re in the vulnerable group and have had to shield, it’s not always clear how often you need a booster.

The Government has ended the regulation to make the COVID-19 vaccination a condition of deployment for people who work in health and social care. On the one hand, I feel fine about this because a staff member who I know personally is unvaccinated and I was concerned she would lose her job. Now, she can keep working.  On the other hand, this increases the risk of people like me catching the virus. She explained to me why she didn’t want to be vaccinated and I understand her reasons. However, I think she would be better off taking it.

I’m conflicted because I don’t want to lose this member of staff and now, I won’t have to. But, at the same time, it is worrying to work with an unvaccinated member of staff because of that risk factor.

Now it isn’t a legal requirement to wear a face covering either, with the shift from Government restrictions to personal responsibility. This could be seen as a good thing. Who wants to walk down the road wearing a facemask? It can be hard to hear someone who is wearing a mask and communicate with others because your face is covered. However, people can still wear a mask in public spaces if they want to help reduce the spread of the virus.

It’s no longer mandatory to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19. Now, I don’t like that. The whole idea of self-isolating if you had COVID-19 was to protect other people by preventing the spread of the virus. More people will be at risk if people who have it can go out, especially if they’re not wearing a facemask. This worries me.

The law has changed but Government advice is still to isolate if you do test positive for COVID-19.  Some organisations have policies around self-isolation and wearing facemasks and differences between laws and contractual policies at work can be confusing.

The Government won’t be providing free lateral flow tests, and we don’t yet know who will pay for them if it’s company policy to test for COVID-19 – but not law. They should start selling them in shops, but then we don’t know how much they will cost and whether this will make them inaccessible to some people.

Politicians want the country to get back to normal. I can see what they’re saying. Over the past two years, lots of companies have been bankrupted and many have had to close.

Additional boosters are being offered to people who are over 75 years old or vulnerable. But who is vulnerable? That’s a good question – everyone is vulnerable in some way. Everyone. What about everybody else? Not everyone will be safe.

As COVID-19 policies and restrictions have changed, I’ve managed to find out information quite easily on the internet. However, it’s important to keep explaining the changes to people with learning disabilities, because the rules are constantly changing, and it can be confusing.

When the Government produces large documents, they should be made immediately available in accessible formats like easy-read or a recording, depending on a person’s need. It should be something our Government does automatically, instead of support groups having to produce them, which takes time or us having to request them, which means you need an email address and access to IT and other technology. Maybe we need a campaign!

Andrew Spernick is an expert by experience and quality checker at Choice Support. Email: Twitter: @Support_PEN

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