Student practices physical distancing in MacEwan's library.

What you need to know: A nurse educator talks about second waves and COVID-19

November 10, 2020 | Science, Society, Health, Campus Life

Barbara Borkent, a nurse educator in the Faculty of Nursing, has 40 years' experience in public health, lobbying for legislation on seat belts, child car seats and bike helmets, and has worked during health crises like AIDS, SARS, swine flu and more.

Here, she talks about COVID-19, what a "second wave" of the virus means and what you can do to help stop the spread.

First, what is a second wave?

A first wave occurs when a widespread disease (typically a viral epidemic) affects a large portion of a demographic group. After an initial upward wave, the disease peaks and then settles down. After a period of time where the number of affected cases are few or none, the disease begins affecting a different age group and begins spreading further and to more demographics, thereby having a greater impact on the population — and being called a "second" wave.

"No matter how you look at it, we are at the point where our numbers are way higher than they ever were and something needs to be done about the community spread, which is putting all of us at risk," says Borkent.

What is "community spread"?

There is potential for the virus to spread at any point of normal day-to-day contact in our community. Going grocery shopping, eating in a restaurant or meeting friends are all points where someone could come in contact with the virus.

"One of the biggest risks is if you are in an enclosed space with poor ventilation and you're within two metres of another person," says Borkent.

For example, if you're walking outside on campus and pass another person, the risk is minimal, but if you're inside sitting in class or having a close conversation with another person (or even sitting down to share a meal) without wearing masks, there's a huge risk for spreading the virus.

Get to know MacEwan's mask policy

At MacEwan, Masks or face coverings are required at all times in all indoor public spaces and in all non-public spaces where physical distancing of two metres cannot be maintained when on university property.

Masks or face coverings must cover the mouth, nose and chin and be durable enough to allow them to function effectively for the entire time the individual is on university property.

Please ensure that you have a mask or face covering before coming to campus. Masks are available for purchase in the bookstore or online at, or available in select vending machines around campus.

Read the Communicable Diseases and Pandemic Policy here  

Read the Mask or Face Covering Standard here   

Are we currently in a second wave, or at risk of one? 

Borkent advises that although we shouldn't worry about whether we're in a second wave or still in the first wave, she wants to make clear that cases of COVID-19 in Alberta have risen dramatically — and that's the worrisome part. 

With numbers on the rise, what can we do to prepare for the worst?

As members of a society, we have a shared responsibility to look out for each other. Borkent, who has helped lobby for past safety legislation, understands the resistance to limited social gatherings and wearing masks.

"But we need to do something to normalize the behaviour and help people realize the benefits not just for themselves but for others in society," she says.  

At the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organization described "Five Heroic Acts":

  1. Keep your distance

  2. Sneeze or cough into your elbow

  3. Don't touch your face

  4. Wash your hands

  5. Stay home

Borkent also advises everyone to watch out for misinformation and conspiracy theories online. "I challenge people that when they hear something, to check if it's really true." Reliable sources she recommends include Alberta Health Services, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

So is there a second wave?

"No matter what term you use, we've got more cases than before," says Borkent. "So think about what you can do in your own life to minimize the risks for yourself and the people you love."



Dealing with COVID-19 anxiety

Nature, psychological flexibility, staying connected—psychology professor Dr. Andrew Howell says there is much you can do to maintain—or improve—your mental health. 

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