It’s important not to drop your guard regarding protective measures, as the risk of infection still exists. A false sense of security doesn’t help you or those closest to you.
Advisor: Ruben Darío Manrique
The isolation and preventative measures against Covid-19 have brought with them a kind of fatigue, which has resulted in people relaxing their adherence to the guidelines established by scientists and global health organizations as the most effective way of tackling the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the severe acute respiratory syndrome: hand washing, correct use of facemasks, social distancing of at least two meters, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands.
It’s even been a challenge to keep up precautions in social gatherings. “We have to do away with the idea that a person is as healthy as we are because they’re from the same family, or because we know each other. This myth must be shattered, because we have to understand that eight of every ten people infected with coronavirus are asymptomatic, and they look and feel normal”, explains the epidemiological doctor Rubén Darío Manrique Hernández.
In his view, there is a false sense of security that emerges when people think ‘I’m not going to catch that’. It happens when a person is warned about a risk, and they respond by saying ‘that’s not going to happen to me’. For instance, when you say ‘don’t walk around downtown at night or you’ll get robbed’ and the other person answers ‘no, that only happens to stupid people, I’m too smart for that’, or when saying ‘don’t drink and drive or you’ll have a crash’ is met with ‘I drive better when I’m drunk’. “They have a false sense of security that I refer to as optimism bias”, Dr. Manrique adds.
Nevertheless, a large degree of unawareness and uncertainty exists, as we don’t know how the immune system of each individual will respond to the viral load: they could withstand it, or fall seriously ill. Dr. Manrique also shares a statistic: of the 20% that develop symptoms, 15% reach a serious condition and 5% die.
Why does social distancing work?
When people speak, they release air and water droplets that are known as aerosols. Air travels a distance of around two meters when expelled from the mouth, and it’s important to bear in mind that minute particles of the virus linger in the air. This proximity means that another person could be liable to breathe it in if they are within this distance, like in social gatherings when people sitting very close together remove their facemasks to eat.
When the virus doesn’t reach two meters, it begins to fall to the ground or settles on nearby surfaces: clothing, the dining table, or a desk. Dr. Manrique explains that studies indicate that, depending on the surface, the virus can remain for between four and 24 hours; some research suggests that it can stay on clothing for 48 hours.
“That’s why you mustn’t forget to wash your hands frequently, as they are the tool we use to touch surfaces and the membranes (conjunctiva, nasal and buccal) that are less impermeable than the skin. I would also emphasize the importance of washing food”, he spells out.
Are facemasks still relevant?
Now more than ever, facemasks are the main barrier of protection, even if a person is healthy (or thinks they are) and has no symptoms. When choosing one, it’s important that it “fits your face well: a parent’s facemask won’t be suitable for a child”, Dr. Manrique explains. They must have an anatomical seal for the nose to prevent particles from entering, in addition to side protection to avoid gaps appearing due to air currents or the force of speaking, something that is vital in offices or supermarkets.
Surgical or disposable masks can only be used for a day, and remember that they have two sides: the blue side with the filter facing outwards to reduce the risk of infection, and the white side for when a person is or has recently been ill, in order to prevent the release of saliva droplets. Cloth masks must be used and then washed, and provide double filtration (fabric on both sides). These measures are here to stay, and they protect not only yourself but also those closest to you with solidarity ad responsibility.
“Physical distancing is required; I don’t call it social distancing, because social cohesion is also something we need”: Rubén Darío Manrique, epidemiologist.
Protect yourself in every situation
- If you’re going to visit a restaurant: Make sure that your table has been cleaned properly, and keep your distance if you take off your facemask.
- If you’re going to travel: Ideally, you should travel with as few people as possible, by car or bus with the windows open and constant use of facemasks.
- With parents or older adults: If you’re planning a visit, limit your interaction with other people for a minimum of seven to 14 days beforehand, and use a facemask during the visit.
- If you’re going to have social or work meetings: Ensure good ventilation during the whole meeting, with at least two large windows and one door open.
Vaccines help the body to develop immunity to the virus that causes Covid-19. Several countries, including the UK, have implemented mass vaccination since December as a strategy to tackle the pandemic, although the results are still being studied as it’s the first time vaccines of this type have been given. While they reach every country — with all that entails in financial and logistical terms — specialists like Dr. Manrique suggest “being very patient”. He adds that “we have to keep up all the precautionary measures (hand washing, distancing and facemasks) because the virus isn’t going to disappear; it’ll be with us for a long time, like measles, chickenpox, hepatitis or AIDS. We aim to achieve induced immunity through the vaccine”, he concludes.