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KKK vs COVID-19

/ 05:07 AM December 16, 2020

Today’s column is going to be a bit of a circuitous journey with words, to deal with the anticipated surge in infections over the holidays.

We start with Japan, where the buzzword of the year 2020 has been chosen: “sanmitsu,” which translates to “three avoids.” There were several words nominated, most related to the pandemic, but sanmitsu seems to have won hands down, referring to a highly successful campaign started by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.

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Going beyond masks and handwashing, sanmitsu tackles additional risks that are particularly important in densely populated areas.

It’s interesting, too, that the Japanese translated the “three avoids” to three C’s in English: close conversations, closed spaces, and crowded places.

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Let’s look at these three C’s:

Close conversations are most familiar to people, with the advice of keeping at least one-meter distance, though this is a minimum. Most countries use two meters (or six feet in the US), and for good reason. Many of the more common face coverings we’re using are more useful to block source infections, meaning if you have the virus and are using the cloth masks or gaiters, the chances of your spreading the virus are greatly reduced.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as efficiently the other way around. That is, if someone has the virus and sends out what are called microdroplets, these can be sent a wider distance than two meters and can stay suspended in the air, so if your mask is inadequate, or is worn improperly, you can still get the virus.

Ironically, these fine microdroplets are not expelled from coughing, which is what we tend to fear most. Instead, the microdroplets come from talking and from singing.

That’s why we have the other 2C’s coming in. Crowds increase the risks of someone having the virus in your midst, especially with everyone chattering away and at the top of their voice.

The third C is important: Closed spaces. Outdoor transmission of the virus is rare because air circulation disperses the virus quickly. But if you are indoors in an enclosed space with poor ventilation or, take note, air conditioning, the microdroplets expelled even by one infected person will keep moving around the room, sometimes propelled by the air conditioning.

There are a growing number of medical journal reports showing multiple infections (in one report, one restaurant diner infected nine others). The reports have come mainly from China, where contact tracing is intense and thorough. Now comes a report in the Journal of Korean Medical Science (Nov. 23, 2020) using closed-circuit TV footage, personal interviews, and measurements of air flow inside a restaurant where an infected woman had eaten.

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The investigation, by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, established that the woman was able to infect two people inside the air-conditioned restaurant, which had no windows or ventilation. One of those infected sat 4.8 meters away and exposure was 21 minutes, while the other one was 6.5 meters away with only five minutes’ exposure. Those infected were caught in the direct flow of the air-conditioner.

The problem of infections in enclosed spaces is still under-recognized in the Philippines, since we don’t have contact tracing anywhere close to what the Chinese and South Koreans are doing. Filipinos are more scared of outdoor air or of their clothes having the virus, leading to all kinds of useless and even dangerous measures like disinfectant sprays and foot baths.

Germany and Japan include massive public information campaigns on how to ventilate rooms several times a day, even more often if there have been several people staying inside the room. Rooms need to have both fresh air going into the room and “old” air exiting, through electric fans and exhaust fans, and by opening windows and doors.

How can we launch our own sanmitsu or three C’s campaigns? I had to stretch it to play on the Katipunan and three K’s. For closed spaces, we have kulob, referring to a room with stagnant air, though note that Filipinos tend to think of kulob only if the room is warm or hot, and think air conditioning solves the problem. For crowds, we have taong kumukumpol, or people crowding. And for close contact, this is really stretching it using the Taglish klose-up. I welcome readers’ suggestions for alternatives!

Do watch CNN’s Front and Center with Pia Hontiveros at 7:30 pm, which includes a discussion of the risks of COVID-19 this holiday season.

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For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
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