Masking up

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We have been up and down alert levels a few times now. The issue of masks is, therefore, very topical. As a health professional, wearing a mask isn’t a big deal to me. We have them around, and are used to wearing protective gear as needed. For example, in flu season we can wear masks to prevent getting the flu from patients and passing it on.

There are other occasions, such as when people have a particular resistant bug that we don’t want to catch or pass on. It is odd for me, seeing people wearing masks out and about, on trains and so on, but we are all getting used to it. I try to take the train to and from work two days a week, as mask-wearing is the norm there now.

There seems to be a bit of dissent around masks. Perhaps this is not such a big deal in New Zealand, but overseas there are certainly factions who refuse to wear masks. There are all sorts of options — the blue hospital “surgical” masks, the home-made variety (WHO says they should be three layers), the bought variety, that can be fashionable and stylish. You can, potentially, have masks to match your outfit, if you are fashion conscious! It seems fairly natural to me, however I can understand it’s not at all natural or normal in our culture. In some Asian countries, mask-wearing is more culturally normal — for protection from pollution, as well as from illnesses. So, as soon as the coronavirus broke out, mask use was widespread pretty quickly.

At the end of the day, it is a way we can minimise the risk of us spreading infection more, more than minimising the chance of us catching it. Hopefully, you have seen the memes/pictures of how far a sneeze or a cough can carry germs in our breath. It’s quite a long way! Hence the social distancing guidelines of being 1.5-2metres away from each other. When combined with handsanitising, these methods come together to make for good hygiene, and help to minimise the spread of any illness, including flu. We certainly saw a drop in flu numbers and sickness last year, due to these measures.

People don’t always like being told what to do. We have seen people reacting badly to being told to stay home, being told to self-isolate with symptoms or contact, being told to wear a mask. The population of New Zealand has certainly been pretty compliant — all things considered — and when compared to other places overseas. It seems that there is a view that we are being asked to wear masks and stay at home to control us, rather than as a real public health initiative. Covid-19 is all about a numbers game. Even with a “low” mortality rate of 1-2 per cent,
if every single person in New Zealand gets it, then 0.02 of 5 million could be up to 100,000 deaths. That would be tragic. It would overwhelm our health system, and prevent people with cancer and heart attacks and strokes from getting the health care they need.

Administration of the vaccine has started overseas, and in New Zealand, with people working to protect our borders and their families getting it first. There has been much work by the medical and scientific community to get this vaccine ready in a safe and useful time frame. Our Pope has reportedly had the vaccine, and I will be having it too. I will do this to protect the patients I see, as well as my community at large, who may be vulnerable. I think we all want to get back to some sort of normal life, though the world has inevitably changed forever.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.”

Helen Luxford is a physician, working part-time. She is a parishioner of St Michael’s, Remuera. Together with her husband Michael, they are raising their children in the Catholic Faith and reflecting on the challenges and joys that brings.

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Helen Luxford

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