THE SHIFTING advice in relation to masks (they were initially discouraged, but now are deemed compulsory) is a sign that we have moved into an even more dangerous phase in the covid19 crisis. The Government had little choice but to extend the stay-at-home order yesterday.
So far so good. The healthcare system has not buckled. We have managed to treat the confirmed cases through the running of a parallel system that has made good use of normally underutilised resources. The provision of additional beds, as well as the implementation of protocols, has also supported existing measures.
But in many ways, the system has not yet been properly tested. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned a few days ago, “The worst is yet to come.” Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh’s candid admission of fears for the system should be understood in the context of the challenges posed to systems all over the world and in a situation in which a spike could prove catastrophic.
Shutting down food services, delaying the reopening of schools, and the distribution of masks – these measures are all part of a strategy that seeks to blunt the impact of any escalation. But these measures are meaningless unless the most fundamental entreaty being made to the population is ignored. Stay at home.
In relation to masks, confusing signals have been sent. Initially, there was caution given the fact that masks encourage a sense of complacency and also pose hazards of their own, accumulating pathogens that could actually render more concentrated levels of contagion. But now, with agencies like the US Centers for Disease Control encouraging mask use, the approach has shifted to the beneficial effects these barriers could have in preventing transmission. That’s because we are clearly at a stage where we must operate under the assumption that everyone is already infected.
We, therefore, record some reservation about the plan by the Ministry of Health to distribute masks later this week. The mechanism of how these masks will be given out is not defined clearly enough to assuage concerns about large crowds of people gathering at offices. (It is understood distribution could take place through MPs or local government officials.)
At the end of the day, no one should be leaving home unnecessarily unless they are part of the essential services. It is our fear that by advising people to wear masks, the State is inadvertently encouraging people to go out in public. Given the contrarian positions sometimes adopted by Trinis, the message needs to be as clear as possible.
Be that as it may, perhaps the State can place emphasis on getting people to make their own masks with ordinary household items, using the easily accessible instruction manuals that have already been issued by international health agencies. This would reduce the need for chaotic distribution schemes.