The World Health Organisation’s Dr David Nabarro yesterday, as our Covid-19 deaths pushed beyond the 1,700 milestone, spoke clearly and with some force to the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee. He, thankfully, spoke with a directness not always a characteristic of our nudge-and-wink public discourse.
“I do think we need to try and push from saying people ‘should’ do to people ‘really must’ do,” he said in reference to making it compulsory for those using public transport to wear a mask. Acknowledging that there are conflicting views, he argued that masks are “a proper part of an overall strategy especially when people have to be close up”. It seems strange that there is even a debate about this as there are no convincing arguments, other than vanity, against wearing one. Why would we not follow Dr Nabarro’s commonsense advice and mask-up to do all we can to minimise the impact of an anticipated second wave?
His advice rings loudly as we begin to ease restrictions — and as examples of what might happen when restrictions are prematurely relaxed, or imposed belatedly, come to light. Almost inevitably, those examples are seen at their sharpest in America. Despite recently carrying the unenviable tag, even if briefly, as the world epicentre of the pandemic the White House’s coronavirus task force now meets just once a week. This seems arrogantly complacent as states in America’s West and Deep South record a sudden jump in cases weeks after loosening restrictions. The Covid Tracking Project reports that the seven-day average rates of new cases in California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas are at or near record highs. Arizona and Oregon have had large increases in the last month. Hotspots New York and New Jersey have lower rates than the south and west. Would that be the case had Dr Nabarro’s advice on mandatory face masks been observed?
Dr Nabarro also pointed to the deaths in nursing homes and though he admitted different countries have very different ways of compiling figures he said Ireland is at the “upper end of the spectrum”. There have been more deaths among Irish nursing home residents than in any other group or setting. His view may offer context but even if taken in isolation the vulnerabilities, of residents and staff, exposed by the pandemic means we must completely reimagine this system. Basic selfishness, an aging population, and common decency oblige us to do so even if that means reviewing the role of profit as an over-arching dynamic in the process.
A new round of extensive testing is planned for nursing homes as the number of contacts identified by people with Covid-19 has risen since restrictions eased three weeks ago. The average number of contacts per diagnosis has risen to close to 3.5 per person since May 18, compared with an average of two under full lockdown. The HSE said the increase was to be expected as travel restrictions were lifted, more shops, services, and businesses reopened and people left their homes more frequently. It would, however, seem foolish not to try and help slow that increase by taking perfectly simple, unintrusive measures, such as wearing a mask.