Tales from the pandumbic – part 1

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The tale of the one handed shopper

I shouldn’t need to explain the background to this post in any great detail other than to use the word “pandemic” – unless you’ve spent the last few months trapped at the bottom of a well with no access to news, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Different countries are taking different approaches to the crisis, and what they mandate for their populations. Here in the UK, we are not – currently – required to wear masks in public places, though some people are doing so anyway.

A general point on masks is that if you wear one, it’s not really to protect you from catching the virus (there are a number of flaws with that) but to prevent you from infecting others, or simply depositing the virus on surfaces that other people might later touch, if you yourself are infected.

Another concept being employed here is ‘shielding‘ whereby, if you are more likely to be badly affected if you are infected – which means you are likely to suffer worse than most, to the point of possibly losing your life – you are strongly advised to stay at home and not go out at all, and that applies to anyone who lives in the same household as you. Alternative arrangements need to be made for shopping etc.

This also applies, but for different amounts of time, where you or someone in your household is – or shows symptoms of being – infected. This time, the goal isn’t to prevent you (or that person) from picking up the virus because you (or they) already have it. It’s to prevent you spreading it around; to protect other people.

So now that I’ve highlighted those three points, let’s talk about the one handed shopper.

About a week ago, I popped to a local shop to pick up some basic supplies. While I was there, I noticed a woman using one hand to hold the (large) neck/collar of her top over her nose and mouth; effectively using that part of her top in lieu of a mask. She wasn’t alone – but the chap with her, who I assume was her other half (and will refer to him as such throughout), wasn’t doing anything similar.

This made me wonder what the point was – why was she doing it?

For self-protection? As noted above, masks don’t serve a lot of purpose for that. The main issue is that you are still touching things with your hands – those things may have the virus on them. Until your hands have been washed with soap and water, your hands become a risky surface; you have to ensure you don’t touch anything closer to home with them until you’ve had that wash – such as door handles inside your house, etc., or your own face… and of course that mask itself!

Another point that shows the fallacy of covering her face that way is that her other half wasn’t taking the same precaution. If that pseudo-mask did offer any protection while out shopping, her other half wasn’t doing likewise so wasn’t similarly ‘protected’. He could therefore pick up an infection and pass it on to her. Oops.

Another point is that she had effectively crippled herself by doing it – the hand holding the pseudo-mask to her face could not be used for anything else. She had to shop one-handed. Good job her other half was there, then, not doing the same; three whole hands between them!

But… how long had she been doing it when I spotted her, and how much longer would she be doing it for? That hand would likely become tired after a while, and holding that position would become uncomfortable – but she couldn’t change hands because if she did, she’d then have her other hand, which had been touching other things, now touching her pseudo-mask. Oops.

So as a means of self-protection, quite apart from why masks are flawed, this approach was doubly flawed.

And, of course, if she was doing it because she is particularly vulnerable, then neither she nor her other half should have been shopping anyway. And that brings us back to the other reason for staying at home – being infected, or possibly so. Just as with being particularly vulnerable, she should not have been shopping, and neither should her other half.

Even with her pseudo-mask, she’s still touching things with her other hand, shedding the virus for others to pick up. She also still has the potential discomfort/tired hand problem, which could lead to her switching hands (and I can easily imagine this being done without even thinking about it), thus increasing the risk of spreading the virus. And, of course, her other half could also be carrying and spreading it anyway.

All in all, then, the obvious conclusion to draw from this is that while we are living through a pandemic, we should also be wary of the pandumbic.

And also, if her reason for the pseudo-mask was because she is (or thinks she may be) infected, that shopping trip has put others – including me – at risk.

Which is a nice thought to close on. (Although I should add that I’ve been taking plenty of precautions).