Face masks vs physical distancing

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Dr Neals Chitan is an International Social Skill Consultant and Crime Reduction Specialist who holds a PhD in Social and Behavioural Sciences and currently works in Grenada. He is the President/Founder of Motiv-8 For Change International a Toronto-based Social Skill Agency and can be reached from North America at 647-692-6330 and locally 473-416-8377 or at nealschitan@motiv-8.org

By Dr Neals J Chitan

Let me go on record from the start by saying how totally convinced I am that we are fighting a monster virus which commands so much damning strength that it has changed our complete world and plunged us into a strange kind of normalcy.

Like the two world wars that left their scars on the 20th century, this monster COVID-19 pandemic will go down in world history as one of the major events of the 21st century leaving a narrative to be told by those who survived it, for generations to come.

In an effort to immediately arrest the spread of this deadly virus, a renewed set of hygienic routines and protocols had to be quickly adopted and enforced by countries throughout the length and breadth of the planet in an attempt to combat the soaring number of infections and deaths. And why not? Despite the inconvenience and trauma of these protocols, people far and wide were ready to adhere without much thought for the greater good.

However, as the pandemic prolonged, folks became more and more desensitized to the urgency of compliance and as protocols were relaxed, pre-COVID attitudes, behavior and habits revived with the relaxing of restrictions. And so, in a quest to get economies and countries up and running again, it is imperative to take an objective look at the regulations and protocols that although deemed important, can be a major deterrent to sensible and successful growth. Such regulations are that of face masks and physical distancing.

I vividly remember at the beginning of the outbreak, these two protocols were resolutely adopted and enforced as crucial steps towards curbing the possibility of community spread.

The medical professionals told us that we needed to be apart from each other for a minimum of six feet because the virus is transmitted through the droplets deposited from sneezing and coughing. Therefore, to enforce this regulation, law enforcers were strategically stationed by grocery stores and other essential businesses to ensure people observed the six feet markings between customers. Along with this physical distancing regulation, were the frequent sanitizing of hands and wearing of face masks. And of course, as we heard the imminent announcement of more and more infections, the population buckled down into strict adherence to these protocols.

However, now five months or so into COVID-19 pandemonium mode of living, we must seriously consider the implications of these regulations if we are to successfully bring our countries back into what can be considered some form of working normalcy. Thoughtful deliberations must be therefore considered if we are to reap the best results out of this bad situation and get community and national operations going again.

One of our vital operation needed to jump-start the economy is our public transportation, but it came back to life crippled by the physical distancing protocol. Similarly, other businesses and gatherings like sports/cultural events, church services, funerals and weddings took a hard blow by this protocol. However, simultaneously, along with this physical distancing regulation is an uncompromising face mask protocol, drastically limiting the business flow and wasting of productive time as people attempt to get in and out of buses, supermarkets, government offices and other such business places.

If we are to be objective about this issue, we must take a close unbiased look at the rationale for this physical distancing and face mask combination. Again, let us go back to the reason for physical distancing. It was advised by the powers that be that we needed to be at least six feet away from each other because that is about the safe range to avoid being affected by a cough or sneeze. Then, we were told that we must wear face masks so that we do not cough or sneeze on others nor get infected by the droplets from others’ coughs and sneezes. If that is so, and we all wear face masks, it means that our droplets and viruses will be trapped in our own face covering, thus making six feet physical distancing irrelevant. The truth about it is that everyone is doubly covered, and my droplets cannot get out from behind my mask and navigate their way behind your mask to infect you.

This means that of the two enforced mask and distancing combination protocols, the more vitally important one in the curbing of infections is the wearing of face masks. Now that we have established the crucial importance of an enforced face-covering regulation, the better combination with it is a good hand sanitizing regulation which is already in place in all business places and public transport.

If the truth be told, rubbing shoulders in a minibus carrying 18 sanitized and mask fitted passengers will not drastically increase the chance of someone getting infected more than ten passengers on board. Furthermore, if we are honest, the ten or 12 passengers allowed cannot observe the literal six feet distancing in the true sense of the regulation. However, the eight additional passengers will get eight more people to work or business faster and bring a better dollar to the owner-operator, thus giving a bigger boost to the economy.

Similarly, is the concern for churches, schools, funerals, weddings, or community meetings. There too, if the face mask protocol is strictly enforced with its double protection benefit to its wearers and their masked neighbor, and good sanitizing is mandated, community spread will still be minimized with or without physical distancing being enforced. However, the benefit of getting more people serviced or involved will be a major boost to business, religious, social and community life.

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