As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to cut a blazing path through our communities, we are now at the point where many of us know people who have contracted Covid-19. Some of us even know people who have died. They are not just statistics, but people with names, faces, families and friends. 

After months of relative calm and a slow increase in new daily cases, the numbers are soaring all over the country and the reality is sinking in that we are all at risk. Now is not the time for ‘Corona fatigue’. It is easy for us to pretend that the danger has gone away because the shops and restaurants have reopened and people are back on the streets. 

While this is a welcoming sight, we need only look at what is happening in the US to see the dire consequences of reopening businesses and getting back to our ‘normal’ lives, while ignoring the importance of safety measures such as social distancing and the wearing of masks. It is possible to engage in more activities – and vital for our local economy that we do so – but only if we continue to be vigilant.

The two most obvious things we can do to stay safe is to maintain a distance of at least 1.5 metres from others and to always wear a mask when leaving home. Why, then, does it seem so difficult for people to do these two very easy things? 

Yes, wearing a mask feels uncomfortable and stuffy, especially when you’re walking or talking a lot. It’s tempting to just lower it for some relief, but whenever I feel that way I remind myself of the doctors and nurses who spend days and nights behind their masks (and covered in additional layers of PPE), sometimes performing complicated, hours-long surgery. Now, if they can do that without becoming oxygen-deprived, then surely we can keep ours on for the short periods when we are interacting with people who are not part of our own household.

Although it is heartening to see more people out in public wearing masks, there are very few who do it correctly and consistently. The habit of removing a mask or lowering it to hang around your neck seems to be common practice, especially when encountering people you know well. But surely it is completely illogical to think that acquaintances, colleagues, friends, neighbours and family members do not pose a threat. We should all be aware that Covid-19 has spread exponentially within social and family circles, and that it is impossible to know who could unwittingly be infectious – including ourselves.

The same attitude seems to apply to social distancing. Whenever we encounter someone we know, and might not have seen in a while, it is all too easy to forget about the necessity of keeping a safe distance. Now I know it might be a bit more difficult to have a conversation from behind a mask and from a distance of 1.5 metres, but that is simply something we are all going to have to get used to. It’s called being considerate. It’s not only about my safety but also about yours – and all the other people we come into daily contact with, including our family members.

If we as a community can work together and consistently adhere to these two simple measures, we could save lives while at the same time supporting businesses so that our local economy has a chance of recovery during this challenging time. Businesses themselves have a responsibility to make their customers feel safe; some business owners, shop assistants or staff members are still to be seen interacting with clients without covering their faces properly. (And no, a mask hanging around your neck does not offer any protection!)

The correct way to use a mask:

  • The whole point is that you wear it the entire time you are out in public or interacting with people. This means that you put on a clean mask with clean hands when you leave home and keep it on until you are back home again. 
  • The mask has to fit snugly over the bridge of your nose (and not balanced on the tip, where it will keep sliding down). It should cover your nose and mouth, and extend over your chin. (There is clearly no point in wearing a mask if your nose is sticking out!)
  • Don’t touch your mask while wearing it. That means no fiddling, and no pulling it down to rest on your chin or hang around your neck. When removing it, use the loops or ties to take it off, rather than touching the fabric. 
  • Wash your mask frequently with hot water and detergent and allow it to dry completely, preferably in the sun. Don’t wear it when wet. Always store it in a clean, dry place.

And the third thing? Why, wash your hands, of course. Do this thoroughly, and frequently, with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. We should all know the drill by now!

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