Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Covid-19 is Here for the Long Haul; Here’s How to Make Sure You Are Too

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January 9, 2023

Covid-19 has changed the world forever, and we need to act accordingly now. It can be helpful to think of Covid precautions like sexual health precautions. Covid is here for the long haul, so even though it’s becoming more impossible to have zero risk and exposure, there are likely several methods you could employ to make a situation safer. And while it’s more than understandable if you’d rather stay home to avoid infection, there are many steps in between never leaving your house and acting like the pandemic never happened (and isn’t ongoing). It’s here to stay, so act accordingly. 

The problem of aerosols 

It’s commonly accepted that Covid spreads through direct human contact and liquid droplets in the air and we can see the material effects of that impact. The rise of the pandemic brought increased hand washing and sent hand sanitizer sales through the roof. But an increasing amount of evidence has pointed to aerosols as a key mode of transmission in the spread of Covid. Aerosols are tiny air particles that range in size from a few nanometers to several tens of micrometers. Basically, Covid-19 is airborne and is being spread through flecks of material imperceptible to the human eye floating through the air. 

Many epidemiologists have been sounding the alarm on the danger of aerosols since March of 2020, but accepting aerosols as the predominant mode of transmission has been what one McGill professor of medicine calls “controversial” due, in part, to resistance to the widespread nature of changes needed to combat an airborne virus. Namely, governments around the world would need to invest in increased (and costly) ventilation and air filtration in most or all buildings. 

Beyond the financial implications, the acceptance of aerosols’ role in Covid would reverberate across epidemiology and the medical industry at large. The uptake in mask-wearing and increase in hygiene habits have reduced other respiratory illnesses like the flu, which suggests that there might be more to airborne transmission of illnesses than previously suspected.

There are many things you can do on your own, across a range of price points and effort, to increase the ventilation and filtration in the spaces you frequent. It can be as simple as opening the windows or turning the fans on at home or as complicated as DIY-ing reverse ventilation in a hotel room. The point is, most of us have the ability to reduce our risk of Covid even if we can’t eliminate it. 

What about vaccines?

Throughout 2020, it felt like all of us watched as scientists came together and focused on creating a vaccine in various pockets across the globe. What’s happened since exemplifies what disability activists have been saying: that it’s the greed for profit, rather than a pure desire for improving health outcomes, that drives medical breakthroughs. 

Even when they were first released, what was most remarkable about the vaccines was their ability to reduce immediate death and hospitalization. When it came to transmission and the ability to protect against the long-term effects of the virus, the results were less promising. Using vaccines as a catch-all solution for Covid-19 has proven ineffective at reducing the virus’ spread and improving the outcomes of those affected. One study found the latest bivalent booster to reduce Omicron transmission by 22%, and several studies have shown that vaccines reduce the impact of Long Covid by only 15%.

Now, this doesn’t mean that vaccines should be discarded but that we should approach the coming years with a multi-layered approach that includes vaccines but doesn’t solely rely on them. A multi-prong approach that employs vaccines, masks, ventilation, and when needed–just staying home!

Does this mean I need to wear a mask?

The biggest impact you can individually have on your own and others’ well-being in regards to Covid-19 is wearing a mask. But not all masks are created equally, and our face shapes are all unique to one another. So while cloth masks were cute at first, they aren’t going to cut it now. Surgical masks and KN95s offer better protection, in subsequent order, but can leave gaps in the seal because they use ear loops vs. head straps. The masks that offer the highest protection are N95s and elastomerics, which both undergo enhanced fit testing to provide a stronger seal and tend to be more breathable and easy to wear. The downsides are that they are bigger, bulkier, and tend to be more expensive–at least the upfront costs. 

But at this point in the pandemic, you can get disposable masks in all sorts of colors and prints, and they even sell decals and stickers for different elastomerics. However, the best mask you can choose is the one you can afford to wear consistently. Look for a mask that’s comfortable and creates as tight of a seal around your face as possible. Researchers at the University of Cambridge even devised a DIY fit test you can recreate at home to test the efficacy of your mask.

Conclusion

Although governments and public health agencies across the world have downplayed the severity of the pandemic and its lasting effects, the science is clear – we should avoid infection and reinfection for as long as possible. As a disabled person, I worry about what that means for my future, the future of those like me, and those not like me. Because throughout the coming years, we’ll likely continue to see those in leadership obscure the truth around Covid’s impact for the sake of profit over lives. I’m asking you to dig deep. Trust you can still live a fulfilling life while taking precautions to keep yourself and your neighbors safe.

I understand it’s tempting to want to go back to “normal,” but we’re now entering year four of the pandemic, and thousands of people are still dying every week from acute infections with Covid-19. There’s still much we don’t know about Long Covid but what we do know is that it’s shaping up to be the largest mass-disabling event of the modern era. Much in the same way that the acceptance of aerosols would force a radical shift in approach in the health and science communities, I’ve seen comrades struggling with the moral and ethical contradictions that Covid didn’t create but deeply exacerbated. What would that mean for us all to examine the ableism perpetuated and/or internalized in our everyday lives? As we ring in the new year, it’s important we push past pandemic fatigue and remain strong in our resolve, like our lives depend on it! Because they do.

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