#COVID19Chronicles-68: June 21, 2020: Personal responsibility? Are we serious about the need for masks?

“Personal responsibility” is the message given to the people by the PM, loud, clear and early.

https://twitter.com/sleekjamaica/status/1237485432176349189?s=21

Well, we ought to know how that story ends, at least in many places. It’s not just in Jamaica where personal responsibility means my way or the highway; I’ll do as I please. So, I’m less surprised that one of the aspects, as far as COVID19 prevention goes, is wearing masks where it is appropriate. I add that clause because the advice given by the World Health Authority is that the best practice is to keep personal contact down to a minimum, ie social distancing (at least 1 metre), and if that’s not possible, then masks—properly fitted over nose and mouth—are a good thing for the general public to be wearing.

Admittedly, WHO has changed over the period of the pandemic, and they are not at one with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). But, the prevailing policy direction is for masks to be worn in public and in Jamaica it’s been mandated.

So, I honestly don’t have real problems when I see people outdoors and not wearing masks when they are many metres/feet away from others. If they have a mask to hand, that’s reassuring because you don’t know what chance encounters will occur. Depending on intended activities, it’s more often the case now that you cannot enter an establishment without a mask (and other types of health protocols, eg temperature checks).

When I went out early on Saturday morning, I was not shocked that few people wore masks, but many people were keeping a decent distance between themselves.

Unmasked but socially distant on the sidewalk in Barbican

I don’t have a picture, but I noted that two old guys outside a bar were in each other’s faces in the nicest way, as drinkers often are, even so early in the day.

As I’ve noted in recent weeks, when going to the golf course, I see many people without masks and so it was yesterday. The golf course is applying strict rules for the workers to wear masks, though some are relaxing that.

The self-policing of best practices is going to be a major challenge, not least because the problem we face (no pun) is not one that’s immediately visible at any stage, unlike something like a pox. So, many are lulled into false sense of security because they and their acquaintances don’t have symptoms and may well have not had any need for masks most of the time. It’s not yet second nature to put on a mask or carry one, though it should be.

What’s clear to me is that those who are interacting with others in settings where mask-wearing and sanitization etc are now mandatory are more readily just doing that all the time. For many others, it’s still an occasional practice.

What bothered me most yesterday was that most of the vendors I saw were no longer wearing masks nor were their customers. So, close interactions are again a place for possible transmission. When one puts that together with the general re-opening of many activities it’s easy to see that ‘community spread’ is going to be on the cards again.

My major concern, however, is with those officials and politicians making policies but ignoring the advice they are offering to the public. We don’t have the problems of some countries where such people have broken ‘lock down’ rules to go about their personal business (as with Dominic Cummings, the UK PM’s special advisor). But, we do have many going off message. The most shocking I saw last week was the chief medical officer at a function for emergency equipment to deal with the pandemic, amongst others with masks and not wearing one herself. What does that say?

https://twitter.com/dennisgjones/status/1273971051769344002?s=21

You have all the PR urging one practice:

https://twitter.com/srhajamaica/status/1267828802693947394?s=21

Yet, you have politicians adopting the opposite, albeit in pursuit of other good health objectives:

https://twitter.com/nestaja/status/1274409241147817984?s=21

At the least, most people will be confused. Is it a rule for all, or a rule for some. Is it do as I say or do as I do?

These were the messages given just over a week ago:

“… The outbreak is not over. It is not over! And this is the most critical point as we make changes in how we manage because with new populations coming in, there [are] risks of exposure,” the CMO warned. 

‘Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton also lamented the growing aloofness to coronavirus warnings.

“As it relates to the wearing of masks, it is a concern. We have to get Jamaicans to appreciate that a big part of confronting this health threat is personal responsibility,” Dr. Tufton said.

We are seeing in the short time since the borders reopened, the spike in positive cases and the prevalence of cases being ‘imported’ and contacts of such people.

People are already asking ‘What was the effort for?’

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

One thought on “#COVID19Chronicles-68: June 21, 2020: Personal responsibility? Are we serious about the need for masks?”

  1. It seems to me that we have reached a rather tricky stage. We are still getting a steady flow of “imported” cases and at the same time the general public seems to have lost interest in the whole thing. Me? I’m staying home, feeling more concerned than ever.

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