Day 218 – How not to get infected

Morning all.

A couple of interesting, somewhat interactive articles about that pesky coronavirus for you today. More specifically, some work that has been done to show you how not to get infected with the damn thing as we struggle to get our lives back on track, and some case studies we can learn from on what went wrong elsewhere.

I should point out that while these are full of good advice, there’s not much that hasn’t been said before as far as the basic rules go. In fact, much of it is based on the fundamentals that I shared here, namely avoid inside spaces, avoid poorly ventilated spaces, avoid crowds, keep your distance, wear a mask and if you must put yourself in those situations, then at least try to avoid prolonging the duration of any of these riskier activities wherever possible.

Here is the the first of those two articles:

An office, a restaurant and a bus were the settings for multiple infections that have been studied in detail by health authorities. Their conclusions offer valuable lessons for the de-escalation process.

And yes, they do. But it has to be said that if any of the protagonists in these tales had read that post I wrote 116 days ago (or any of the other literature around managing risk of coronavirus infection, obviously), then these could all have been avoided.

With hindsight, I trust that they can see that there should have been red flags and alarm bells all over the place. e.g.

In a single wing of a call center in Seoul, in South Korea, the risk of infection was multiplied by four key factors: close, prolonged contact between numerous people, in an enclosed space.

Oops.

But there is some good news as well. If you do find yourself in a situation where you need to be inside with other people, then you can still mitigate the risk of infection by taking some fairly straightforward steps. Let’s look at the example of the bar from this second article. where one individual is having a drink with his mates in the local pub after work on a Friday. Nobody knows (including him) that he has Covid-19.

In this bar, capacity has been reduced to 50%. There are 15 patrons and three members of staff. The windows are closed and there is no mechanical ventilation.
In the worst-case scenario, if no measures are taken, 14 of the customers will be infected after four hours.

Yes, that’s everyone in the bar.

If masks are consistently used, the risk of infection falls to eight new cases.

Almost halved. Of course, the most important person here as far as mask wearing goes is our erstwhile infected office worker, but since he doesn’t know that he’s infected and we don’t know if we’re infected, then anyone of us could be him, so wearing a mask could make a huge amount of difference here.

If the premises are ventilated, which can be done with a good air conditioning unit or opening doors and windows, and the time spent in the bar is shortened, there is only the risk that one person will be infected.

No-one wants to spend less time drinking with their mates on a Friday night. After all, that was a truly shitty week and the deal with that shoe company looks like it’s about to fall through. After all that hard work, too. So sure, we need that downtime, but if you really need a whole four hours, then just open a door and a couple of windows. (Or sit outside, of course.)

And you might say that you’ve only reduced the number is real terms by 6 or 13 people, but the fact is that those 6 or 13 people would have gone on to infect x more individuals, who would then have gone on to infect y more and so on. We can’t stop the spread of the virus completely, but we can really slow it down and – moreover – prevent unnecessary infections.

What you do regarding your behaviour (within the laws, rules and regulations, obviously), is completely up to you, but there’s plenty of sense in taking stock of your surroundings and choosing to make small, simple changes to make yourself, your friends, your family and other people a bit safer.

For all that we are learning more every day about this virus and the problems that it causes, we still don’t have a vaccine or a perfect cure. It’s certainly worth protecting yourself as much as possible: especially when the steps you need to take to do so are so very uncomplicated.

Oh – and keep washing those hands. That’s not so hard, either.

Day 143, part 2 – Just say no

Spotted online.
And relevant, given the upcoming move to Level 2 and the precautions people should still be taking.

Just say no… but how?

 

 

I’m certainly not happy to share indoor spaces (here’s why), and so far, I’ve always alternated between “direct” and “too indirect”, but “I’m not setting foot in your haunted plague box” might just be my new goto line from now on.

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.