The recent piece on navigating the present-day landscape of everyone else's coronavirus strategy didn't get many responses, and those weren't publishable for reasons of excessive pugnacity or the repeating of misinformation.
One stood out, a fellow who chided me, "Well young lady I guess that the semi-annual HEPA mask fittings I did as a condition of employment was a profitable scam if
paper or cloth masks filter out virus-sized particles."
One supposes "Young lady..." is meant as flattery, but it reads as dismissive; at any rate, I'm within a couple of years of full retirement age, which is a bit past 65 for my cohort. I've been working at my trade for forty-eight years now. There's more silver than gold in my hair these days.
I have also been trained on and then worked in a "Moon suit" and full-face Air-Purifying Respirator, or APR, basically a gas mask. The training comes with lectures on what it does and does not stop, how it works and a lengthy segment on how to control and limit exposure that included this short film. I don't know how a short training course -- we got 24 hours, total -- stacks up against getting a filter mask fit check a few times a year, but it's at least comparable.
And it means neither of us is an expert at everyday biohazard control -- just like most people.
With that caveat, I'll dig right in to the central canard, that my cheap little paper and synthetic-fiber KN95 mask is supposed to keep the virus from getting to me, all by itself.
It's not. In that direction, it's a pointy stick in a gunfight: better than nothing. But it's also just one part of the process, a process that explains why I can look at one or two unmasked folks at the grocery store and not freak right out.
Limiting the spread -- even with the chicken pox or cooties contagiousness of omicron -- is accomplished by a bunch of small steps, none of them perfect. "The best is the enemy of good enough:" many people see that some measure -- vaccines, handwashing, refraining from French-kissing strangers, whatever -- is not a total barrier to infection, and therefore ignore it. In that case, why wear a seat belt in your car or an airplane?
I'm going to use my typical trip to the corner grocer's. Your mileage may vary.
Start with that mask: it's not a great barrier against tiny, dry, aerosolized viruses. It is a better barrier to the larger moist, virus-bearing components of my exhaled breath; even a cloth mask does at least a little of that. And what it doesn't stop, it tends to slow down. It's better than nothing.
Next step: I choose uncrowded times to grocery-shop. I don't push up close to other people. So presumably, there's less viral load in the air and I've got a bit of distance from the source, or a barrier between us. It's not great (I guess I could have groceries parachuted to the middle of the back yard if I really wanted to keep my distance) but it's better than nothing.
Next step: I limit my time in the store, planning what I will buy ahead of time and following a set, efficient route. A week's worth of groceries takes about twenty minutes -- a bit long, but better than wandering around for an hour.
Next step: I don't socialize or chatter. A "Hello," to the butchers I know, a pleasantry with the cashier through the barrier (those slabs of Lexan aren't great, but they're better than nothing). I don't stop and catch up on neighborhood gossip in the middle of the aisle when I see a friend. (Yes, some people still do. I'm not in charge of them; I wasn't even when they were aisle-blocking before the pandemic.)
Final steps: I sanitized the touching surfaces of the cart when I picked it up. Once the groceries are stowed, I return the cart* and then sanitize my hands before taking the mask off, folding it by the straps and stowing it in a zip-lock bag. None of these are sure-fire virus-stoppers, either -- but they're better than nothing. I've had two vaccine shots and a booster, too: also not a guarantee I won't fall ill, though they should substantially improve my odds of not ending up in the hospital or worse if it happens. (If, indeed, it hasn't already.) Once I get home, I'll wash my hands before and after putting the groceries away. Through it all, I will refrain from touching my face.
Am I saying all of this is a totally effective way to not get COVID-19 (or the flu or a cold)? No. In fact, hell, no. But it helps. It's more helpful in not spreading it if I happen to have it and don't know. It's not a hundred percent for that, either -- but it's better than nothing.
Am I saying you should be doing all or even some of these things? Sorry; I'm not the boss of you. Make up your own mind. Roll your own dice. I'll be over there, at least six feet away, not yelling at you.
Controlling communicable illness is a matter of statistics and mass populations. One way is by drastically restricting people's movements and interactions the way Red China has -- but it takes a totalitarian government to pull that off and it becomes less and less effective with more contagious versions. If not combined with massive vaccination, all it does it put the problem off for later, because this virus is not going away. That's not how we do things in Western Civilization. Sure, there's a degree of chivvying going on here in the U.S., at roughly a seat-belt law and smoking-ban level, and with about the same degree of compliance or a bit more, and that's what we've got. It's better than nothing.
It's a lot better than spreading rumors that keep people from making the effort.
* Because I'm not a sociopath or a savage. YMMV.
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