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.