Day 116 – A very poor example by Jesus

This is very disappointing from Jesus and his Disciples. Offered up to us throughout our childhoods as a shining example of how to lead our lives, I’ve just been sent this image of Him and His friends out and about last night, and quite frankly, I’m shocked.

Let me just say that I’m not impressed with the idea of celebrities not being able to lead their private lives privately, either. I wouldn’t usually use a paparazzi shot like this on the blog.

But this has got me mad.

Zero social distancing. And not a mask in sight.

Appalling.

I’ll bet that they didn’t even sign in with their contact details for Track and Trace in case someone ends up with the bad Covid. Which they will, because, I mean, just look at the state of this.

And while the restaurant owner needs to step up and take some responsibility – why not space them out over both sides of the table for starters (and the other courses)?? – this really comes down squarely on the shoulders of the guys at the table. I’m willing to bet that alcohol was involved here: they’ve clearly all been on the water and have forgotten about the rules and regulations put in place to protect us all.

And are those Jägerbombs on the table? That’s illegal.

Look, it’s all very well dying for the sins of mankind, but when stuff about your private life like this comes out, it really devalues the whole message. Very poor.

Get it together, for Christ’s sake.

 

Day 111 – Understanding reactions

People react to different things in different ways.

As Rudyard Kipling famously wrote:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs…

Then you would be good as the first responder to a multi-vehicle pile up*.
You need someone who can organise and mobilise and prioritise in that situation.

But that’s not important here.
Unless you are reading this while driving, in which case, it might be important soon.

I can understand why people react with frustration and disappointment to the recently reinstated alcohol ban. I also reacted this way (even though I also understand the alleged rationale behind it).

I get why people don’t agree with the ban on the sale of tobacco. I don’t agree with it either.

But I can’t understand why people won’t wear masks. It’s so simple. So obvious. So straightforward. It’s so easy. I cannot see the downside.

Maybe the resistance is because of the other rules and regulations over which you have less control? Pushback against a government that one feels is taking things too far?

I know, I know – there are a lot of other underlying issues here. No time for those right now. Or… maybe… ever.

But wearing a mask isn’t difficult and it has benefits for everyone – even slowing the spread of the virus and potentially getting those other “draconian” measures lifted sooner.

Being asked to wear a mask is a no-brainer.

It shouldn’t elicit stuff like this:

 

u wot m8?

You don’t need me to point out just how many things there are wrong with this (spoiler: I’m about to list a few, anyway). It simply doesn’t make any sense.
Where has this toddler been that everyone is wearing masks all the time? Why was everybody (and clearly, I mean everybody) wearing masks in Dubai for a couple of years before the coronavirus outbreak? What happened to this toddler’s parents? Why haven’t they taken him for tests? Or is he in hospital for those tests? Did they not discover any other underlying medical or psychological condition? How did they pinpoint it on the mask thing? I mean, it isn’t like the toddler could have told them, is it? How many toddlers are there in Dubai? How many toddlers are there in the world? Why is this toddler the only one affected in this way?

And then the big ones:
Why would someone make something like this up?
And why would anyone believe it?

I don’t know why people react to different things in different ways. For example, I don’t know why I reacted to this tweet by sitting in front of the footy last night and writing a 1000-word, fictional feature article about this Dubai toddler.

But I did.

Maybe it was that I needed answers to those questions above.
Maybe it was that the football was rather dull. I don’t know.

Anyway. Please go and read it and share it. Just for the lolz.

And please wear a mask. Thanks.

 

* Rudyard didn’t write that last line. 

Day 110, extra – The toddler who cannot talk

This is an incredible (as in, literally not credible) story from the UAE.
Please take the time to read it.

 

When his widowed mother died during childbirth, there was never any question that the team at Dubai’s Al-Shabbas Private Hospital would take care of little Ata. In this strange, overwhelming, futuristic city, sometimes the personal touch can be forgotten, and the staff at Al-Shabbas probably knew that without their shared care, baby Ata – his name means ‘Gift from Allah’ – might fall through the cracks in the UAE’s social service system.

It’s been a strange life for Ata, now almost three years old. He has many mothers and fathers in the hospital and has become a favourite with staff and patients alike. He lives, plays, learns and sleeps in the hospital unit in which he was born and which he has never left. The staff – from the porters and cleaners, through to some of the most celebrated consultants in the world – are each happy to take time out from their daily schedule to do their bit to look after Ata: whether it’s sitting with him during breakfast or lunch in the hospital canteen, or reading him a bedtime story before he settles down to sleep in the on-call bunk room that has become his home.

“He’s our child – all of us are his parents,” says Australian Ward Clerk Sandy Johnson, her voice slightly muffled behind her surgical mask. “He’s got an international family!”

Indeed, an astonishing total of 18 different nationalities currently work in the unit that Ata calls home, and all of them have their own story to tell about the little boy.

One could argue that such an unusual upbringing might be detrimental to a child, but Ata seems to relish being cared for by so many individuals. In fact, you would never know that he doesn’t live the normal life of a three year old were it not for one striking feature: he cannot talk.

Despite being just two weeks away from his third birthday, Ata can only communicate via various basic vowel sounds and some form of rudimentary sign language. It’s worth noting that it doesn’t seem to affect his happiness at all, but despite months of speech therapy (on the house – this is a hospital community, after all!), he cannot utter a single word.

“At first, we thought it was maybe because he was experiencing many different mother tongues,” comments Registrar, Dr Iqbal Ahmed. “But that wouldn’t explain why he literally can’t make the sounds that make up the words of any language. It was only recently that we worked out what the actual problem was: our masks. Ata’s speech is handicapped because he almost never sees a mouth due to everyone wearing a mask, and can’t look at the lips moving. I’m surprised more people working at this Dubai hospital haven’t told their friends overseas about this.”

“It’s the same reason that visually impaired people can’t talk,” explains Speech Therapist Noora Koram, plainly ignoring reality. “When we are learning how to speak, we look at the lips of the person speaking and we make the same shape with our lips and that’s how we learn to talk. Ata can’t see any lips because of his weird upbringing in a hospital, where everyone wears masks all the time and never ever takes them off, even when eating, so he never sees their mouth and their lips moving and so he can’t speak. I don’t think he’ll ever learn to whistle either. Or play the clarinet.”

Sandy Johnson agrees: “Yeah, it’s definitely the mask thing. Well, either that or he doesn’t actually have any lips either. We don’t know because he wears a mask all the time too. Everyone wears masks here all the time because it’s a hospital and that’s what people do in a hospital, even when they’re raising a fictional child in a fantasy parenting collective situation.”

“To be honest, I’m not sure if Ata even knows that humans have mouths,” says Koram. “He’s never ever been outside the hospital unit and so everyone he’s ever met has been wearing a mask. Always. We’re not even really sure how he learned to eat, because you use your mouth for that as well and it’s really hard to do that when you’re wearing a mask. Which we all do. All the time. It might actually be terrifying for him to ever see a full human face when all he knows is two eyes and a rectangle of blue pleated paper below them.”

“With hindsight, it might have been better if he had grown up in a regular family environment,” admits Consultant Gynaecologist, Professor Jennifer Hammond. “But it’s too late for that now. Because of the strict government guidelines all over the world, even regular families wear masks all day and night now, and they’re not even living in hospitals where we also wear masks all the time. Twenty-four seven. I’d imagine that we will see many more children whose speech is handicapped because they almost never see a mouth due to everyone wearing a mask, and can’t look at the lips moving. Of course, those children also never watch TV or watch videos on the internet or live in the real world, because otherwise this would be less of a problem. But almost never seeing a mouth due to everyone wearing a mask is going to be a real issue in our near future. I’m even concerned that I will forget what a mouth looks like and lose the ability to talk, due to everyone wearing a mask.”

It’s a frightening prospect, but as I leave Professor Hammond’s office, there is Ata in the corridor outside: carefree and happy – a smile in his eyes (and possibly lower down his face as well – I can’t see), and just for a moment the world seems a better place. I give him a grin – which he can’t see either – and bid him farewell.

Ata grunts contentedly and goes back to playing with his teddy bear, which I can’t help but notice, also has a mask on.

As we all do. All the time.

 

For a full explanation, click here.

Day 102 – Virus FAQs

I’m still being asked a lot of questions about the virus situation here in SA. Microbiology is my passion and I’m happy to be asked, happy to answer. But maybe I can save us all some time and effort by answering some of the more commonly asked questions on here.

I’m not saying that this is the only way to do things, or necessarily even the best way of doing things: everyone will have their own approach and that’s fine. But this is the way we’re doing things, based on science, our knowledge and the changing situation around us. And yes, things are constantly changing, so it’s therefore reasonable to assume that our approach will change when required as well.

You’ll notice a common theme, one that I have eluded to many times before: it’s all just one risk individual assessment after another. Basically: how much do I need to do this and how much risk is there of me getting the virus from doing it?

Where you can, avoid risky situations: close proximity to others, indoor spaces – especially poorly ventilated indoor spaces and especially spending a prolonged length of time in those sorts of spaces. Apply that approach to your daily life (it’s really not as arduous as you might think) and generally you’ll end up doing things right.

Questions.

Are we in the clear in Cape Town now? 
No. We’re not. The focus over the last couple of weeks has definitely moved to Gauteng, but this isn’t a light switch. You don’t just flick one place on and another goes off (and actually, that’s not even how light switches work, is it?). The situation in Cape Town still awful and no, you shouldn’t let your guard down. Right now, wherever you are in the country, it’s safest to assume that the virus is everywhere and alter your behaviour accordingly.

Should I be wearing a mask?
Yes. Wearing a mask is cheap, easy and has huge benefits, especially for those around you in that it limits the distance that any virus you breathe out, can go. And sure, I know that you don’t have the virus, but science has shown that asymptomatic transmission (passing the virus on even though you don’t feel ill) is a huge factor in the spread of Covid-19.
There is no downside to wearing a mask.
The Disaster Regulations say you must wear a mask when you are in a public place. And good luck with getting into any private establishment (shops, restaurants etc) without wearing one.

Should I be shopping?
Not unless you need to. Certainly not for pleasure. Shops are generally indoor spaces and you really should be avoiding those wherever you can. If you can order online, do so. If you can’t, then get in and get out as quickly as possible. Groceries are one thing, but I promise that you really don’t need to get those shoes or buy that new vase right now. Do that quick mental assessment: the risk is likely the same for grocery shopping and shoe/vase shopping, but only one is necessary. See how easy this is?

Should I be going to bars and restaurants?
In my humble opinion: hell no. Just because these places are open for business, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go there. People with masks off (for eating and drinking), inside space, prolonged period of time, and often speaking loudly because of background noise/music. These are all high risk behaviours/situations. Put them all together and it’s a recipe for disaster. By all means support your local restaurants, but do it via delivery or pick-up.
Sit down meals are not a good idea right now. Sit down meals are actually a very bad idea right now.

Don’t we all?

And haircuts?
I would love to have a haircut. But again: just look at how you have a haircut: someone stands right next to you (right over you, even) in a small space for a good length of time. This is not a safe situation. This is an easy call. And it’s a strong no from me right now.

Cinemas, theatres and casinos?
No: Indoors. Proximity to other people. Prolonged duration of potential exposure. Ticking lots of those High Risk boxes and none of the Absolutely Necessary ones. Red flags everywhere.

Is meeting friends ok?
Difficult one. There’s more to life than physical health. Mental health is hugely important too, and we all require some degree of social contact to keep us sane. Zoom calls can only go so far to satisfy this need. So let’s put this in perspective: while not meeting friends poses zero risk of infection, meeting friends carefully, in controlled conditions: socially distanced, with masks on and OUTSIDE poses very limited risk of infection.

Here’s something else to factor into your quick risk assessment. It’s Dr Everett Koop’s quote:

When you have sex with someone, you are having sex with everyone they have had sex with for the last ten years, and everyone they and their partners have had sex with for the last ten years.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you have sex with your friends – that’s your call (and theirs, obviously). But with a little tweaking, that quote reads like this:

When you meet a friend, you are meeting everyone that they have met with for the last fourteen days, and everyone that they and their family have met in the last fourteen days.

How sensibly have your friends (and their families) been behaving?

Should I meet elderly/vulnerable friends or family? 
Hard no. As difficult as this may be, it’s going to be a whole lot more difficult when they contract the virus and get sick or die. No good can come of them spending time with anyone at the moment. Horrible situation, I agree. Nothing we can do about it. Sorry.

Any quick advice for me?
Wear a mask (limits risk of transmitting virus).
Wash your hands often (removes any virus from your hands before it can get inside you).
Stay at home as much as you possibly can (the virus can’t come to you – you must go to it).
Don’t go into indoor spaces with other people where you can possibly avoid it (this is a high risk activity).
Remember that time is important (the longer you stay in any risky situation, the more chance you have of being infected).

There you have it. I’ve avoided the thorny “Should my kids be going to school?” one, because there are just too many variables and too much emotional stuff there. That’s even more of an individual choice than anything else here.

As mentioned above, I’m not saying that these answers are right for everyone, but I believe that the thinking and the approach behind them is solid and is a good way for anyone to gauge whether you should be taking part in any given activity.

Stay home. Stay safe. Have a great day.