Unmasking the problem


    I’M confused. Weeks ago we were being told: The public doesn’t need to wear masks, they can’t protect you anyway. Leave the masks to the healthcare workers who need them. But please make sure that when you sneeze or cough, you cover your nose and mouth.

    And everyone should sanitize.

    Despite this advice, ordinary people did start hoarding – yes hoarding – masks. I have a friend who has a supplier and I did buy masks for myself and friends, as well as goggles and face shields which I was happy to give to doctor-friends at the frontlines. But in January and February, I took flights to Iloilo, Puerto Princesa and Tacloban sans masks, though I had a handkerchief to cover my nose and mouth when I felt like coughing – and had a small spray bottle of alcohol to use after.

    Then we started to read about “droplets” and how they were floating in the air. There were droplets that immediately fell to Earth (I knew not where) once expelled from a cough or a sneeze; but now we are told that there are droplets that hang around for a while, waiting for someone to breathe them in and play host to the virus. We were also told that the droplets – the Trojan Horses for the virus – stayed on in things we touched – plastics, paper, metal, fabrics, even food. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.

    The worst of it was to be told that there could be asymptomatic COVID carriers among us – people who don’t show any signs and symptoms of the virus but who were actually the ones spreading the disease all around the world. And the worst part of this worst part (yes, there’s more!) was that a person is more “infectious” BEFORE he shows any actual symptoms than after – so the most infectious at all were these asymptomatic ones!

    Time to head for the End-of-the-World bunker.

    But back to the masks. How do we make heads or tails of this? To mask or to un-mask?

    I always go to the bottom line first: To keep myself from getting infected. And I can get infected by having the virus enter my body through my mouth, nose, eyes – and even ears I think. And this happens mainly, I am told, when I touch these body parts with unclean hands.

    Hence I repeat to myself the refrain: Wash/sanitize often and especially before I touch my face. That’s that.

    But I can inhale the virus as well, and that’s where masks come in. However, we are in different situations, which may impact our need for masks. I am in the car alone – I suspect my need for a mask is close to nil at that point. I can be walking on the sidewalk and notice someone coming towards me – I suspect my need for a mask is close to nil as well, especially if I can afford to make sure not to cross paths or (worse) hug or kiss the other person. I am in line at a supermarket and later on enter the enclosed space – I would be better off wearing a mask because someone could have coughed or sneezed at some time before I entered, or while I am there. And I should not forget to clean my hands before I touch parts of my face!

    Of course, if I were to be in close proximity to someone with a cold or a cough or, worse, someone with confirmed COVID infection, then I would definitely need a mask (among others). And I better make sure my mask is the N95 kind. But this is more the reality for a healthcare frontliner than for me.

    So yes I have a mask I bring around and yes I make sure I am wearing it at certain moments. As we all should. But let’s remember the basics – let’s keep our hands clean. Let’s cover our noses and mouths when we sneeze or cough. And use a handkerchief or a napkin or a tissue to wipe your eyes. If we do these then we deny the virus the chance of finding hosts among us. We “flatten the curve,” we ease the strain on our healthcare system, and we get closer to the time when we return life to normal, albeit a “new normal” type of life.

    So sanitize as you practice common sense. And Namaste to you all!


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