I keep hearing about a move towards a “harm reduction” phase of the pandemic response, what does this mean?

Reopening Staying Safe

A: As defined in the article below, “harm reduction refers to policies and practices designed to minimize negative health, social and legal impacts of a particular activity.”

An example of public health efforts aimed at harm reduction are needle exchange programs where individuals using injected drugs can exchange used needles for clean ones as a means to lower incidence of infections for which needle reuse increases risk of transmission. The emphasis is on reducing harm caused by something when it cannot be prevented entirely.

With the push for states to re-open, we are seeing a shift away from public health recommendations focused on staying at home (i.e., preventing social interactions altogether) and towards identification of strategies that will enable individuals to best reduce their risk of infection (as well as that of others) when they do engage in social interactions, at work, school, child care centers, parks, restaurants, bars, etc. (i.e. reducing harm when social interactions occur).

Such strategies will not only help us to continue to lower our individual risk for infection but will also be a necessary complement to the public health tools of testing, contract tracing, quarantine and isolation for prevention of large outbreaks as coronavirus continues to circulate in most areas that are re-opening and likely will at some level for the foreseeable future.

We Nerdy Girls will continue to help you navigate the latest science-backed best practices for reducing risk of infection (for you and to others) in various settings and scenarios as we enter this new phase.


The Globe and Mail

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