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And it came to pass

By: Michael L. Tan - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | March 17,2021 - 08:00 AM

Taal volcano’s latest tantrums, “tampo,” seem to be a way to remind us about the first quarter of 2020 that started with its eruption even as a new lethal virus, still unnamed, percolated.

It’s a tiny virus, British mathematician Kit Yates making world news with his calculations that the entire world’s COVID-19, about 2 quintillion, that’s 2 followed by 18 zeroes, would fit into a soft drink can, with room to spare. Yet confirmed cases of infection now run 120 million worldwide and deaths are 2.7 million.

When I said goodbye to my kids in Laguna the day before lockdown, I used the Filipino, “lilipas din ito,” one month max. Comforting words, the Hebrew wayehi, and it came to pass, appears hundreds of times in the Old Testament to remind people that the worst hardships and crises will pass.

Our initial optimism last year was wistful thinking, given that we knew little about the virus. Health authorities, including the World Health Organization, insisted face masks were not needed except in hospitals. Inside hospitals, strict protection was prescribed, initially, only for those handling patients with suspected COVID-19. Outside, the fear was of people coughing or sneezing.

Only later, we learned the hard way as information came in from investigating the infection cases, that the virus could spread even from talking, singing.

Health authorities ramped up appeals to “flatten the curve,” meaning keep the infections low and prevent a deluge that would congest our hospitals. Quarantine was seen as the most crucial measure and in the Philippines, with a military-dominated National Task Force Against COVID-19, this often meant harsh and drastic measures especially for the urban poor.

I would prefer to aim for a strong learning curve. Science researchers, and I mean medical, natural, social and behavioral sciences, need to accelerate this learning curve, and to make sure findings are translated into lay language, considering differences in messaging based on socioeconomic status, age, gender, mother language.

A year after, we do know how the virus spreads, and how we can prevent transmission. But our learning curve has been dismal. Every time there’s a spike in infections, as we are seeing right now, the knee jerk reaction of government is to become stricter again with lockdowns.

A year after, we continue to cling to useless measures like foot disinfection baths, misting or spraying with chlorine (useless and harmful), even road disinfection.

Then there’s UV disinfection. There will be a place for UV disinfection of rooms with strict specifications but UV light (and air purifiers) are not things to wear like an “anting-anting” (amulet).

A year after, we have become careless with the measures that are scientifically proven to work, summarized by the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) as APAT DAPAT.

Let’s review that APAT: Air circulation, Physical distancing, Always using masks, and Time together.

People are more or less aware of the physical distancing (at least one meter apart) and the “always using masks” although even there we have many lapses. You’re in the mall and run into someone you haven’t seen since the lockdown and in the excitement, you just get swept up, drawing up close to each other, lowering our masks and shouting out loud, even embracing and going, “Kain tayo,” let’s eat.

HPAAC’s “time together” advice is important: 30 minutes max. That means keeping reunions short, even the meals.

The A in APAT, that’s air circulation, which we almost never hear in government advisories. COVID-19 loves crowds, closed spaces, people talking up close.

So when we do go to a restaurant, ask for the seats outside. If none are available, look inside to check for overcrowding, and poor air circulation. Oh, and eat out is eat out, not sing out.

APAT can be cumulative. Look around you at your next meeting: are there more than 10 people including some whose masks are slipping downwards? Are you in an airconditioned room without exhaust fans? Use online meetings whenever possible but don’t overdo things because there’s Zoom fatigue leading to bad decisions.

If we keep APAT in mind, we can actually reopen safely. Government should allow and encourage open air activities and businesses, still with precautions.

Finally, a year after, we know scolding and threatening are counter-productive. People are tired, even angry. I hear, too often these days, gawa-gawa lang ito, that all this is fabricated.

Our trials and tribulations will pass, but only if we work on our learning curves.


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TAGS: COVID-19, lockdown, physical distancing, Taal, virus

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