Tuesday 8 September 2020

Mask visor mask

On 21st September, our 2° 3° 4° year students will be returning to college trying to salvage what's left of their education. 1st years incommming the following week. In May 2021, the Institute will be able to deliver a piece of paper [Degree, Diploma, Certificate] which hopefully will secure a job or a boost in pay in the real world. The extent to which we will have delivered an education, as in fulfilling the Learning Outcomes, is not so clear. For example, 2m physical distancing rules only allow half the usual number of students in the labs. The Institute has handled this by splitting each N = 18 cohort into two 9s who will encounter science [rather being told stories about science in lectures] every other week. In 2019 1st Years experienced 10/25ths = 40% of their contact hours in labs. Class Covid will only get 5/20ths of their hours in face-to-face contact with a qualified scientist and so are due a discount on their fees. That has not even been contemplated [there's nothing to see here, folks, move along to the teller's window please] by the management.

Did someone mention face-to-face? Current guidelines say that 2m distancing indoors in poorly ventilated laboratories must be accompanied by suitable face-covering. At the beginning of Summer, our HoD (and the sense of the meeting) was for visors because, frankly, nobody was wearing masks back then but we could imagine spending several hours a day talking through a visor. Especially if we were used to PPE with a chainsaw, brush-cutter or angle-grinder. Now, the science is saying that we can see through the case for visors: as aerosol transmission gets higher billing on the risk analysis, so visors seem to just re-direct the micro-spittle rather than keeping it to your infected self. 
Wait! So visors are out?
Not so fast Sunshine, there are quite a lot of categories of people who cannot wear masks.  Let me re-phrase that: people for whom the risks for wearing a mask outweigh the risks of snagging a dose of Covid. Because risk is severity X likelihood and tbf in Ireland, at the moment, 0.11% about 1 person in 1000 is transmitting SARS-CoV2. Which is <1/10th the rate in Mississippi. That's the likelihood. And young people especially will be factoring in the 80% asymptomatic cliché which is still circulating since Wuhan. To whom should we give a pass for masks?
  • Breathing difficulties: asthma, emphysema, COPD, lung-cancer [if you have acute bronchitis you should be home in bed]
  • Special needs: needs help removing mask, cerebral palsy
  • Facial trauma. And no, beards don't count here.
  • Autism
  • PTSD, childhood [sexual] abuse <aaarggh! sorry, you won't be able to unsee that>
  • Severe anxiety, claustrophobia
    • "It's more than just being uncomfortable, it can be distressing to the point of being completely debilitating"
  • Deaf
Actually, that last group can wear a mask themselves but it's kinda useless if we-the-undeaf wear one when trying to communicate. In our get-back-to-school logistics meeting, deaf was on the agenda because one of our students is indeed deaf  and has been motoring through college not-a-bother so long as pals and teachers know that lip-reading and facial expression are vital for successful comms in that case. These exceptions are getting to be a little like What have the Romans ever done for us, but I'll add one more, because it came up: people whose first language English not is rely heavily on non-verbal cues to work out what's going on. So please, please be considerate and polite to unmasked people: you may not be able to imagine where they've been or how they live each day. It makes a whole lot of difference in relationships to say "What works for you?" . . . always knowing that we're trying to spread the definition of normal rather than singling out the outliers for attention. In that sense it's like pronouns.

In a lab, accidents happen when some people haven't heard or read the instructions. There are a couple of solutions. 
  1. Masks which show the lips 
    1. Prone to fogging up: even if you have "proprietary material won't fog as easily as vinyl plastic"
  2. Apps that translate speech into readable txt
I sent this traffic to Dau.I, the other public servant in the family and she came back with "I actually saw a SNA teacher saying she couldn't wear the mask with the panel because it is so f%@*&ing terrifying, just teeth and condensation." Which makes Cell Biology 101 sound like a mashup between The Fog and Alien.
So we'll get there. heaven knows how, but we know we will. Compassion won't go amiss.

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