Returning to normality – the three-pronged approachFriday, November 26, 2021
Since March 2020 Jamaica has been at war with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, which has resulted in major public health and economic crises.
As a result of the measures implemented to stem the spread of the virus – lockdowns, curfews, social distancing – we have seen a sharp increase in depression, suicide, domestic abuse, stress, and anxiety just to name a few.
On the economic front it has resulted in loss of jobs/income, supply chain discrepancies, higher than average inflation, and an economic recession that will not be easy to remedy.
Jamaica is in a sticky position and we will need a silver bullet to remedy the situation once and for all. The nation should incorporate a three-pronged approach that will vastly reduce the virus's transmission. The three approaches are promoting adherence to the COVID-19 protocols, vaccination, and implementing proper ventilation and filtration systems in public and private spaces.
Adherence to the COVID-19 protocols has already been proven to help with reducing the transmission of the novel coronavirus. Washing/sanitising hands, wearing masks, physical distancing, and cleaning surfaces are the main practices that will not only lead our nation to the end of this crisis but also the world.
The Government should introduce a robust education campaign to bring the facts, dispel the rumours, and show people how they can effectively stop the spread. In addition to this, through the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), the powers that be will need to uphold the law by preventing illegal gatherings, even in government buildings. They would need to enforce this by charginging fines in accordance with the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).
With regard to masks, the N95 respirator should be promoted due to its ability to provide a higher level of protection from the virus than typical face coverings. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), N95 respirators filter out at least 95 per cent of very small particles – around 0.3 microns (0.0003mm) in size. N95 masks possess the ability to filter many types of particles, including viruses and bacteria. If this mask proves to be too tight or too hard to breathe in for some individuals, surgical masks should be encouraged.
Face shields have also been shown to provide some level of protection, especially when combined with a mask. Bandanas and handkerchiefs should not be substituted for masks as their effectiveness is less than 50 per cent.
Educating ourselves on COVID-19 protocols can help to minimise the spread, but we cannot eliminate this virus if we do not get vaccinated.
The situation with vaccination has been very controversial, from its safety and effectiveness to imminent mandates in order to carry out the normal practices of one's life. Currently, Jamaica has been offering mainly three vaccines – Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer-BioNTech.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are are non-replicating viral vector vaccines – a vaccine type that has been used for the last 50 years – while the Pfizer-BioNTech is a messenger RNA (mRNA)-type vaccine – a newer vaccine type that has undergone testing over a 30-year period.
Unfortunately, vaccine hesitancy has taken root, due mainly to the rare adverse side effects some people have experienced such as myocarditis, pericarditis, stroke, blood clots and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS). The Government must therefore make a special effort to emphasise to the public that these side effects from the vaccine are extremely rare, but similar or worst symptoms are sure to develop as a result of COVID-19.
Vaccination has proven to significantly lower the chance of developing moderate to severe symptoms from COVID-19. However, the efficacy of the vaccine has been shown to naturally wane over time, and booster shots will have to be given, especially to the elderly and the immunocompromised.
Although all this is already being done, it would be illogical to expect this to continue indefinitely, after all, a variant could come about that is vaccine-resistant and a combination of that plus waning vaccine efficacy could spell disaster for the world. That's why it's important to continue to vaccinate people and follow protocols.
The final prong to defeating this virus is the incorporation of effective and well-maintained filtration and ventilation systems.
One of the mistakes governments and companies made was not talking about and retrofitting their buildings with proper filtration and ventilation technology. Many studies have been done on the effectiveness of ventilation and filtration to remove particles out of the air. These would be ideal for an office space where multiple individuals work an eight-hour day. I highly recommend that the Government incentivises the private sector to retrofit their ventilation systems using high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters, as this would drastically reduce transmission.
According to the CDC, HEPA filters remove approximately 99.97 per cent of particles in the air, and have been proven to capture some bacteria and viruses with the diameter of 0.2-2 microns and 0.02-0.3 microns, respectively. Some argue that they don't capture all viruses, but many of these particles also ride on pollen and dust which are easily captured by HEPA filters. Studies from both the Harvard School of Public Health and the US Department of Defense have shown that the use of these filters on aeroplanes have resulted in the low probability of in-flight virus transmission.
If HEPA filters prove to be too expensive to purchase and maintain, then the use of air purifiers should also be encouraged and incentivised due to its cost-effective nature.
With regards to residential spaces, the Government should stress proper ventilation tactics in their campaign to reduce the spread, such as opening windows and doors so a proper cross breeze can be formed. Without adequate ventilation or filtration, particles can be suspended in the air for hours which increases the risk of contracting the virus. A pragmatic initiative like this should not be delayed further.
I'm not a medical doctor, but it is evident that the novel coronavirus pandemic is nothing short of a crisis and it is an event we all must work together to overcome. This pandemic has reduced people's mental and physical health, as well as their economic agency. No-movement days and curfews cannot continue indefinitely, but with everyone following protocols, getting vaccinated, and incorporating proper filtration and ventilation in all spaces, we will be well on our way to back to normality.
Malik Smith is currently pursuing a double major in economics and banking and finance. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.