Slacking Off, Tightening Up: It’s Not Safe Yet

“We killed the flu!”

A friend who loves data posted a graph of the year over year numbers for influenza. There was a precipitous decline this year. Apparently masks, social distancing and hand washing don’t just inhibit transmission of Covid-19. He analysed data from the States but the same trend is apparent in Canada— seasonal flu deaths are down 90% in 2020.

The precipitous drop in the red line is March to early April, 2020.
The dark blue line at the lower left is the start of this year’s flu season.
(graphic courtesy of Ed Iskra)

This week, I caught a cold. It’s not a bad one: a few sniffles, a scratch in the back of my throat, a bit of general lassitude. No fever, no cough. Yet it worried me.

If I could catch a cold, what else could I catch?

It made me realize that I have become complacent. The urgency of the initial months of quarantine has gone. Yes, we now know that you don’t need to disinfect your groceries or mail, that Covid isn’t easily transmitted outdoors, that cloth masks, if worn by the majority, reduce both the likelihood of transmission and the severity if it did happen. Yes, I live in a place where there are very few cases, and I get sanitized and temperature checked every time I enter a public door.

Feeling safe in Bridgetown, despite the crowds

But— I have lost the habit of thoroughly washing my hands as soon as I get home. I can’t remember the last time I sanitized my phone. I have ridden in a friend’s car without putting on my mask. I’m a bit tired of it all.

In public and on the buses, people are wearing masks; a slight majority properly but a substantial portion sporting them on their chins or under their noses. I see people greeting each other with hugs and handshakes.

Last weekend we went to a bar with live music. At the door, a sign said masks were required, and there was a log book and a touchless thermometer. When we arrived at happy hour, people were only taking their masks off at their tables, donning them again to go to the bar or toilet. But by the time the band was on their second set and the bar was crowded, the only mask I saw was on the bartender.

Before I came to Barbados, I lived on Vancouver Island, on the West Coast of Canada. Its population is about 3 times that of Barbados, but like here it is an island and over a third of the population is concentrated in the main city.

I traded one island beach for another

People thought I was crazy to leave, in September. There were only a few cases per week, and there had been a couple of two week periods with no cases at all. People were wearing masks and following the guidelines for restaurants and public gatherings, but many considered it the same as taking vitamins— you probably didn’t need them, but it was a bit of insurance. In private, many skirted the restrictions, or ignored them.

In the last two weeks of November, there were over 200 new cases on Vancouver Island, including outbreaks at hospitals, care homes and schools. The island fortress has been breached.

Barbados remains a sanctuary. All new cases in the last 10 weeks have been air arrivals who have been caught on the second mandatory test.

Still, my friends in Barbados and other safe havens, be vigilant. There are vaccines coming, but it will be months, maybe a year or more before there is widespread distribution. The situation can still change in a moment.

And no matter where you are, in the middle of the second wave or somewhere with few cases— take a deep breath and remember how cautious you once were, or should have been. Stay safe.

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