THE lifting of the mask mandate is a major moment in the history of the pandemic in our country.
It will also likely prompt mixed feelings for Bahamians.
The announcement came via Twitter from Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis, followed up by a statement from the Ministry of Health.
The news brought swift reaction on social media – largely in favour of the move, often enthusiastically so.
But there were other voices too that still raised concern. FNM chairman Dr Duane Sands cautioned that while the move was not “unreasonable”, the virus is not behind us and people should still be on their guard.
Despite that, his party is open to more relaxations.
There are three areas where the mandate will remain in force, however – in healthcare facilities, in senior care homes, and indoors in school classrooms.
This is a tacit acknowledgement that risk remains – by keeping the measure in place in medical settings and for both the very old and the very young, it shows there remains a danger to individuals, and we should remember those individuals at risk do not just exist in those settings where the mandate remains, but throughout our society.
The Tribune heard from several readers yesterday in response to the news.
One was a woman whose partner is immuno-compromised due to a cancer scare. Despite taking every round of vaccinations, no antibodies have developed to protect him. Due to his situation, the couple have been careful throughout the pandemic, and she expressed concern that lifting the mask mandate put her husband more at risk.
Another reader, a parent of a child too young to receive the vaccination yet – it is available for children from the age of five – was glad that the mandate would remain in the classroom but wary of a child with no vaccine protection being exposed in other school settings.
Still another reader, a supermarket worker, asked what this would mean for staff in shopping outlets and whether they would have their exposure increased with the attendant risks to their health.
There may be answers to some of these questions – but to get some of those perhaps we should remember the start of the epidemic, when then Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis would hold televised conferences alongside senior medical experts of the country, fielding questions raised by the media.
When this change was announced yesterday, it came by tweet – not by press conference where the decision could be explained as to why it was decided that the risk had reduced enough that the mandate could be lifted.
This was an opportunity to thoroughly explain to people the reasoning behind the decision – and to reinforce what measures people could continue to take to protect themselves, and others.
This was also a chance to reinforce to people that although they would not be compelled by law to wear masks why it might be wise to choose to continue to wear masks.
Questions could be answered over such things as what would happen if an employer insists to an employee that they should not wear a mask, but the worker has concerns for their health.
Broadly, this administration has been focused more on getting rid of restrictions – scrapping the curfew was one of the first acts of the new government a year ago.
But it should not neglect the value in advising people of what the basis of decisions are, and the level of risk that people should consider before making their own decisions.
This was an opportunity missed.
The Village Road construction, you’ll be shocked to discover, is going to stretch on into December. First, it was going to be ready for the schools reopening – that didn’t happen. Then it was going to be November – that’s not going to happen either. And now it’ll all be over by Christmas. Maybe.
Part of the problem, it seems, is as the engineer says there is additional work to be done. A roundabout at Queen’s College appears to have been added to the plan in mid-flow, and changing plans partway through is never a good thing for deadlines.
The businesses along Village Road must be facing a nightmare in trying to keep customers coming to their doors, along with any other disruption along the way.
Meanwhile, children at Queen’s College are faced either with dust-filled roads as they come to and from the site or, with a truck sometimes passing through spraying water to dampen down the dust, thick cloying mud to fight through.
When you change the plan during the process, it shows it wasn’t planned well enough at the start. Will this be the last delay? We don’t have great confidence in that.