Dr. Bonnie Henry looked more than a little exhausted as she stood and announced mandatory masking for British Columbia. She also asked for, but did not impose, people not to travel unless it was “essential”. BC’s case count was soaring and the pressure to “do something” was apparently overwhelming.
I am a mask skeptic but I’ll wear one if they are mandatory. I don’t think it will do a speck of good because it is becoming clear that COVID is transmitted by aerosols and masks are only partially effective in managing aerosols. But, short of an outright lock down, masking is pretty much all Dr. Henry has left.
Here’s the problem: at the outset public health people over estimated the lethality of the virus in the general population and underestimated its contagiousness. They then settled on the metric of positive tests as the headline measure of the pandemic’s progress. Cases are certainly a useful metric for spread, but they really tell us very little about the medical consequences and public health resources required to deal with COVID.
Using case counts as the headline number boxed public health officials and the politicians who rely on them into a rather nasty corner when it became apparent that COVID was seriously contagious. The great public paid attention to the headline number and has grown increasingly terrified. Which, in turn, has created a political demand for “measures”. Politically, doing “something” has become more important that doing the right thing. Thus mandatory masks and, no doubt in a couple of weeks, a circuit breaking hard lock down.
We get the hard lock down because the masks are not going to work. Even if the science said that masks, properly used, were 100% effective in preventing transmission, (which it doesn’t), the vast majority of the mask wearers I have seen do not use them properly. My favorite being the people who drop their mask to chat on their cells. With the best will in the world, people will be lax about their mask use. As we have seen with the case rates in mask mandate jurisdictions, masks barely make a dent in transmission.
I suppose the good news in BC is that we have not gone as far as Manitoba and banned the sale of “non-essential goods” nor have we done and enforceable lockdown. However, I suspect they are coming.
The better news is that our frontline doctors and nurses have been figuring out how to treat COVID patients successfully. A lot of that has come down to figuring out how to treat the symptoms of COVID early before they become deeply problematic. But it is still not something anyone wants to catch.
I am sticking with my plan made at the beginning of the COVID: stay at home and boost my own defences with Vitamin C, D and zinc. Lots of handwashing and, because it can’t hurt and might help, mouth wash. The only thing I have added to this are various strategies to limit contact while shopping. Shop when other people aren’t, use a stylus on keypads, keep hand sanitizer in the car and try to get in and out of a store as quickly as possible.
Between now and the widespread availability of a vaccine the chief danger is boredom. But I am lucky: I have a lovely wife, annoying but entertaining kids and a wonderful dog to walk and train. Plus, I have a business which has always been run from home.
Most people are not as lucky with their work as I am. But looking to build your immune system is possible even if you do have to go to work.
One thing which would be relatively easy for government to do is to provide Vitamin D to the general public. While D will not prevent people from catching COVID, there is a fair bit of evidence that having good D levels can reduce the severity of the virus. Worth a shot.