Editorial: Creating pandemic-safe spaces

·3 min read

PRAGMATISM or caution? If there are doubts whether the public has a dilemma struggling between these two options, the traffic situation in many parts of the country and the social media posts immediately put to rest the doubts but not anxieties over the pace many urban centers are reopening in the ongoing pandemic.

The easing of travel and community restrictions by local government units (LGUs) and the private sector responds to the clamor to revive the economy, allow for more people to circulate for exercises and mental health, and return a semblance of recovery and resurgence in response to the decreasing infections and deaths.

Yet, indications show that many citizens are not daunted by or discouraged from mingling with the crowds gathering in malls and other indoor establishments. To forestall these assemblies from becoming into superspreaders of the virus, the local government units (LGUs) are imposing some measures to restrain mass gatherings and boost public safety and health.

Will these measures work during these times when yearend bonuses are released by companies and commercial establishments use the coming holidays to encourage consumer spending?

The Mandaue City Government mandates malls to allow only fully vaccinated individuals inside the establishments, which are largely enclosed and thus, conducive to virus transmission via droplets and aerosols, according to the report of Ivan Rey R. Tan in SunStar Cebu on Nov. 20.

SunStar Cebu also reported that to avoid a Covid-19 surge, the Cebu City Government prohibits minors aged under 15 years from entering supermarkets and grocery stores. The LGU recommends that a well-ventilated space serves as waiting areas for minors waiting for their parents.

While these public-private consultations and initiatives are welcome as stopgap measures to prevent Covid-19 surges, local governments should work with scientists and other specialists in public health and urban architecture to draw up a list of minimum requirements making communal spaces safer in a world where Covid-19 exists as a constant risk.

To guide the private sector in coming up with Covid-19 safe spaces, the LGUs must initiate the drawing up of the standards delineating safety and regulating the implementation of these measures in not just malls, grocery stores, and supermarkets but all public spaces, particularly the enclosed or confined, such as movie theaters, restaurants, cafes, gyms, offices, libraries, and public transport.

According to a July 30 article on researchfeatures.com, a model created by Professor Björn Birnir, Director of the Center for Complex, Nonlinear and Data Science at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), computes airflow and predicts transmission rates in a specific public space.

The Birnir model was used to make the UCSB library safer under Covid-19 pandemic conditions. Using available information, the model can scientifically establish how many people can safely work in a shared space and how long they can stay indoors. Prof. Birnir said other model applications include recommendations for improving ventilation and the air conditioning, particularly in filtering microscopic particles.

Ultimately, what significantly reduces the transmission risks is vaccination. LGUs that follow the Mandaue City Government in requiring mall operators to allow only visitors who are fully vaccinated should also increase their efforts to educate and motivate more citizens to be vaccinated.

With restrictions easing, many citizens feel less pressure to seek vaccination, aside from those who are deliberately not opting to be vaccinated. The Reuters Covid-19 Tracker reported that about 34.2 percent of Filipinos have been vaccinated.

For herd immunity, at least 80 percent of the total population are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus.

With the holidays drawing closer, improving the vaccine rollout still tops the protocols of creating safe spaces in this pandemic.

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