Face masks: should they return?
Alaïa Lafleur discusses the possibility of mandatory mask-wearing in light of increased COVID-19 infection rates.
Considering the large spike in infections over the Summer since July 19th, it is difficult to call the easing of restrictions during the busiest vacation months a “success”. Now Devon, Cornwall, Plymouth, Torbay and the Isles of Scilly are receiving priority government support as enhanced response areas due to a high volume in cases. The Devon county council has stated the rise was expected due to a combination of removal of restrictions, including mask-wearing requirements, a pent-up need for socialization, and Devon and Cornwall standing as two of the most popular visitor destination in the UK. There have been reports of the South West Ambulance Service receiving record calls in the past month and the NHS has had to pause routine work, including surgery and appointments, in main hospitals in Devon and Cornwall.
The government has further recommended Devon and Cornwall residents to wear masks and socially distance. But many people criticize the response as “cavalier”. Former St Ives MP Andrew George called the Enhanced Response Area support “warm words” and demanded the government to take “meaningful action”. Many feel the use of masks in enclosed spaces and public transport should be mandated rather than simply encouraged by the government. However, it has been reported that officials are prepared to require face coverings indoors again if there is a significant surge this Autumn in order to avoid another lockdown. Face coverings are considered one of the first steps of action and favoured to social distancing as a factor with less consequences on the economy.
Numbers can easily fluctuate with the movement of tens of thousands of students across the UK and the expected Freshers’ parties
Cases by specimen date in Devon on the 13th of September amounted to 292 compared to a peak on the 17th of August of 1092. So, case rates appear to be decreasing but officials are weary of what the winter will bring and are urging students to get vaccinated. Numbers can easily fluctuate with the movement of tens of thousands of students across the UK and the expected Fresher’s parties. Professor Susan Michie, a member of the government’s Covid-19 behavioural science team has explained: “Freshers’ fair week will have the potential for being a superspreader event, and however much universities pay attention to making it as safe as possible, it’s the behaviour of people that won’t be known.” This is while universities are expected to offer more in-person teaching this coming term. “The other thing, traditionally, is they’ve been associated with people drinking, and we know alcohol consumption disinhibits behaviour. So even if people go in with very good intentions of behaving in a low-risk way, after a couple of pints these things can change.” Other scientists have the same train of thought and students have already voiced concerns over packed campus events. The government is likely to bring back the mask wearing mandate if these events lead to a great rise in cases, but this response lacks any kind of prevention-based efficiency. Why wait for the surge?