It’s not hard to wear a mask

Learning to live with Covid does not mean pretending it doesn’t exist, says Gary Burgess

Gary Burgess. (30190072)
Gary Burgess. (30190072)

FIRST the good news: vaccinations are working, the number of people being hospitalised with Covid remains low, serious illness has been dramatically reduced, and deaths are down.

So why on earth is the wearing of face masks in indoor spaces, particularly those that are poorly ventilated or crowded, being ‘strongly recommended’ by our government?

Easy. Because they make a difference and because it makes simple good sense.

As soon as the new recommendation was made, the predictable ‘below the line’ comments on the government’s Facebook post began – ranging from those who seem to know better than scientists on mask efficacy to those predicting this is the start of a drift to lockdown.

Well, it really doesn’t have to be that way. And that’s the point.

I wrote back in April of our need to learn to live with Covid and, thankfully, I get the impression the overwhelming majority of us are. But ‘learning to live with’ is different to ‘pretending it doesn’t exist’.

Right now, the Channel Islands are in reasonable shape. As I write this, the number of known cases in Jersey, where I live, is in the mid to high hundreds, but the number of people in hospital – the key metric to watch, in my view – is a low single-figure handful.

What we’re seeing, again and again, is evidence of how well the vaccine is working. And with a newly approved pill on the way now proven to help treat Covid symptoms for those with underlying conditions there’s even more reason for optimism.

So why, ask some, are we being ‘strongly recommended’ to wear those dastardly face masks in certain places?

If, for example, 600 Covid cases becomes 6,000 Covid cases, then that handful of hospitalisations becomes a number that is of serious cause for concern. It could then overwhelm the health service and that, in turn, could lead to routine surgery and other appointments being cancelled. Remember, we already have one hell of a backlog to clear from last year.

The good news is, this time around, we have the power in our own hands to keep a lid on things.

Personally, ever since the pandemic began I’ve worked on the simple assumption that everyone I meet has Covid. That may sound strange, but it’s served me well. It means, all along, I’ve worn a face mask when I’ve gone into a shop, or been in a busy indoor space. I elbow bump rather than shake hands, and wash my hands multiple times a day. And I now keep my distance and have an automatic instinct about how well ventilated any given location is.

All this really is no bother at all. Carrying and using a mask is no different to remembering my keys and wallet when I head out from home.

To the ‘slippery slope’ brigade who see this mask advice as being the start of a softening up for a winter lockdown, again, it really doesn’t have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This time around we know so much more about Covid, we know so much more about the difference vaccines are making, and we are individually being empowered to engage our own brains to stay safe.

There is one fly in the ointment, and that’s the uptake of vaccines among the under 30s. Two thirds of 18- to 30-year-olds are now fully vaccinated. It’s great that so many have taken up the chance to protect themselves and others, but that number has remained stubbornly static in recent times. It means around a third of that age group are not yet in a position where they’ve protected themselves and dramatically reduced their risk of transmitting the virus to others. By the same token, the number of 12- to 17-year-olds getting their jabs is creeping up bit-by-bit but the majority remain unvaccinated.

If the rest of us can positively encourage anybody in our lives to get vaccinated, now would be a good time. There will be those who have absolutely understandable hesitancy about getting jabbed. There’s a lot of information out there, from sensible and trusted sources, that they can read or watch or listen to that will answer their questions – as indeed will anybody at any of the vaccination centres.

I’m now triple jabbed with two doses and booster, and I’ve had my seasonal flu jab too. We’re heading into the winter months where ‘normal’ flu puts pressure on the health service so, to me, we have a civic duty to do all we can to help reduce any additional impacts. There is a selfish motive to all this: if you or I fall ill, we’d want our hospital to be able to take us in and fix us up. That’s a lot easier if the place isn’t struggling with Covid cases which just take up more staff time and resources because of all the protocols that go with looking after such patients.

And so, back to masks. I tweeted the following words recently: ‘Some people losing their heads over the “strong recommendation” to wear a mask in Jersey. It’s not difficult. It’s proven to help. Bottom line, just use your brain: if you’re around lots of people, if there’s poor ventilation, if there isn’t space… pop that mask on. Simples.’

Within 24 hours it had reached 38,000 people and, of all the replies I received, only three were from people who had a problem with the advice. Those opposing voices may jump out at you when you read comments on social media so be reassured that most people ‘get it’ and are getting on with it as witnessed in many shops over the weekend.

We’re entering the winter months in a wildly different place to this time last year. Remember the shambolically managed hospitality shutdown and those pre-shutdown super-spreader events? Remember other shops being closed and then the ‘will they, won’t they’ question of school closures, and people stuck in isolation reaching the high single thousands?

This time we’re being asked to wear a mask.

Wear. A. Mask.

Seriously, it’s not difficult.

We have so much power in our own hands this winter. Let’s remember that and keep our islands in good shape.

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