Monday, April 12, 2021

Leong: COVID-19 hygiene habits draw attention to other problems

Leong: COVID-19 hygiene habits draw attention to other problems

It’s the little things.

While scientists around the world are working hard to find out what makes the novel coronavirus tick and what can be done to stamp the virus out, the rest of us are left with simple, effective tools to do our part to ward off COVID-19.

Or rather, they should be simple.

But as with so many things in life, things can sometimes be more complicated than they seem.

Take hand hygiene, for example.

From Day 1, public health officials everywhere have put out messaging reminding everyone to wash their hands frequently.

I’d like to think the 20-second-minimum routine with warm, soapy water is now common knowledge.

This advice is now so ubiquitous, a popular brand of smartwatch will soon have the ability to detect handwashing and start a countdown to make sure you’re sudsing up for as long as you need to.

And yet, there are billions of people worldwide who can’t heed this piece of advice.

Humanitarian agencies have been warning since the start of the pandemic about limited access — if any — to clean, running water in some parts of the developing world.

There’s trouble closer to home, too.

As of March, 61 First Nations in Canada were subject to long-term drinking water advisories affecting more than 6,000 homes and community buildings.

While handwashing might still be permitted under such advisories, the federal government advises certain at-risk people against bathing without assistance, to avoid accidentally swallowing tainted water.

Some people might not feel safe using such water at all.

Meanwhile, across the border, many localities have been dealing with lead contamination over the last few years.

Even though it is technically safe to use lead-contaminated water to wash hands and certain municipalities have begun to replace problem pipes, a recent news report shows many continue to lack confidence in their local tap water.

These are not problems any rich, developed nations like the U.S. and Canada should be facing.

Meanwhile, the instruction to cover one’s face in indoor and crowded spaces has met with backlash in some quarters.

While still not mandatory in many parts of the world, some countries did issue national mask-wearing edicts at the height of the pandemic.

Some people refuse to wear them because they say masks are not useful to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Strictly speaking, they are right. Simple non-medical-grade masks on their own won’t fully protect anyone from the virus.

But when combined with other measures, masks have been shown to help slow the spread of the disease.

The cultural/political hangup linked with face coverings is curious to me.

If masks truly are useless, then at the very worst, there is no harm in wearing one.

However, if the current science is correct and masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through water droplets in our breath, there should be no controversy at all.

That said, the discourse has not mainly been about science, but rather about freedom.

I’d counter that even in freedom-loving countries such as ours, it is generally frowned upon to do something that might cause someone harm.

And to me, accidental asymptomatic transmission of a potentially deadly disease counts as causing harm.

Personal freedoms need to be balanced by responsibility toward our neighbours and compatriots.

Finding that balance didn’t start with the pandemic — and it won’t end with it, either.

So yes, it’s about the little things.

And it turns out those little things are shedding light on bigger problems we’ll have to face even long after we’re done with COVID-19.

On Twitter: @RickyLeongYYC

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