Thursday, July 9, 2020

On Laws and Common Sense

I'm thankful that my city council decided to make masks mandatory starting July 13th, even though I know a few, like the Regional Chair herself, were hoping that people could be persuaded to do the right thing without the law getting involved. Three weeks ago, our region launched a #FaceMaskFriday initiative to normalize wearing a mask at all, and I've been very concerned that we're so late to the party, and moving so slowly on this, despite, at one point, having a similar spread rate to Toronto.

And then I just now had this exchange in a small local store, which was letting only two people in at a time, which is great, but then opening the door for customers individually and projecting, enthusiastically, "Welcome to our store!!" unmasked and less than 2' away in the tiny entrance to the store. I was glad that I had on a mask and sunglasses, at least.

She pointed to the hand sanitizer and asked me to wear some, still maybe half a meter from my face.

"But you're not wearing a mask??"

She backed away a bit at that point, and said, "No, we don't have to until next week."

"Yes, but it's still a good idea to wear them now, right?"

Her co-worker explained, "We've been doing this for nine weeks already, so we're fine."

I left it at that and got what I needed and got out of there quickly.

This is the reason we can't manage without clear and specific laws, unfortunately. Many people need clear and specific laws to follow, or they won't make good decisions. It's really not enough to have the CDC and WHO and public health, worldwide, finally very clearly on the same page about the vital importance of wearing a mask and social distancing whenever indoors. It's a concern not just for this issue, but any time good behaviour is necessary but not mandated, and, maybe even more importantly, whenever the law tells us to do something that's a really bad idea, which does happen from time to time. We need to learn to think about what's right.

But, as I said previously, we are really bad at understanding the risk our behaviours can have on others. Just because we've driven drunk before, and nobody got hurt, doesn't mean it's harmless to continue drunk driving, right?! So nine weeks without masks without a case linked to you doesn't mean you don't have the virus and can't spread it today. It just seems so clear and simple to me, that I'm perplexed at the number of people who are holding out for that law. But there it is.

Today's New York Times has a 30 minute podcast explaining why there was ever any doubt about wearing masks. In brief, Dr. Camilla Rothe, infectious disease specialist in Germany, sounded the alarm about asymptomatic spread after seeing a patient with Covid19 from contact with someone without symptoms. She recognized that means that, unlike SARS, this disease will be much harder to control. Her concerns about it were published by the New England Journal of Medicine on January 30 to tell the world. But, German Government doctors published a contrary paper that the asymptomatic carrier actually DID have mild symptoms, and it became an argument between doctors.

The frustrating thing is that, either way, the key message is that we can infect others without knowing we're infected, but the contrary paper obscured the message, and it misled citizens and governments even further when Science Magazine discredited Rothe's paper. And then the WHO said we have to distinguish between pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic (even though it doesn't matter in real world behaviours). The WHO "got lost in semantics" in their efforts to be cautious about one study because of the effect it would have on public policy knowing we don't have enough testing or PPE. And then lots more proof came in. But, "It's a scary place to be if you don't have an answer for what you're supposed to do next." The WHO had to straddle the line between getting people to take it seriously, and not getting them worked up in case they were wrong (in which case people might not listen next time). Then, to make everything worse, on February 29, the US Surgeon General, said masks don't help, which cost us time.

Doctors all agree now that people without symptoms are spreading Covid19, which "represents a special danger" with the disease, but some medical organizations are STILL arguing between pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic and mild symptoms, which endangers lives because the important message is being lost: WEAR A MASK, stay outside, and stay at least 6' away from each other!! The ridiculous focus on inconsequential terms has cost us 100,000s of lives.

Rothe says she hopes we can somehow learn from this mess, and she's struggling to understand how everything went so wrong when it was very clear to her team back in January that we all need to assume we have the disease even without symptoms.

But it's not law here until Monday, so whatevs.

ETA: I emailed the store and they responded that they're following all the rules, so, there you go! I sent them this.

BUT, I'm wishing I'd sent them this one instead:


The Disaffected Lib said...

The discussion has now turned to the beginning of the school year in September. It's a debate that focuses on the limits of fighting Covid-19 against the needs of society - jobs, education, the lot.

I think we can be realists without being foolish. Yes, I'd like to see the education of our young people resumed but we must take every reasonable measure to ensure their safety. We can start with masks. They must be made mandatory at all times when in public, including in the classroom. Teachers and school staff must be regularly tested for the virus. Places where the public have shown an inability to exercise precautions such as bars and clubs either need to find ways to resolve that or must remain closed. These are "super-shedders" where on any given day dozens of customers wind up infected.

Finally, when an effective vaccine emerges - if we're that lucky - vaccination must be mandatory. There is too much at stake to indulge anti-vaxxers.

Lorne said...

I have to confess to being completely perplexed by those who resist masks, Marie. Whether it is due to stupidity, ideological intransigence or just plain ignorance, they fill me with deep disgust.

Marie Snyder said...

My first thought, when I went into the store, was if the two employees had been at a bar recently! There's no way to know, but they're adamant that they don't need to wear masks since it's not yet law. We just heard that schools in Ontario are planning to cut the student population in half and we'll teach 16 in the classroom and 16 at home, then switch kids back and forth every other day. I can't actually see that significantly diminishing the risk of transfer, given that kids will still be travelling in the halls to five different classrooms each day and eating lunch with their masks all off at once. To be 6' apart in my classroom, I think I could fit 9 kids, tops. I'm terrified.

Marie Snyder said...

@Lorne - Yes, I can't even imagine why people resist them, especially the manager of a store.