Wearing a mask when you’re sniffling and coughing. Staying home when you’re sick. Being able to stay home when you’re sick. Ventilation, sanitation, basic hygiene. These are COVID precautions that we shouldn’t just be taking during the pandemic. This is just how we should be.
After SARS CoV-1, East Asia adapted, permanently. After that my favorite K-Pop stars wore masks in rehearsal videos, in airports, it was a completely normal thing. Unlike in America where masking has become this cultural shibboleth, in East Asia it just became common courtesy.
This is not because everybody read through a dozen studies and debated it for years. It’s just fucking obvious, if stuff is coming out of your face, cover it. So whenever anyone in East Asia was feeling sick, they wore a mask. It wasn’t virtue signaling. It’s called just giving a fuck about your community.
Thus the answer to when we can stop masking is never. We can mask less, but we should always wear a mask when we’re feeling sick, and when we know something is going around.
After SARS CoV-1, East Asia simply adapted and everyone just masked on the regular. It’s not even talked about. After SARS CoV-2, the world needs to get on the same page. It’s not communism (which you should also try). It’s just common courtesy.
Another sadly uncommon courtesy is staying home when sick. We have somehow made soldiering on with an infection into a virtue, when it’s a sin.Capitalism has also made it not a choice for many people, who need to work to live. This all needs to change.
It’s not just about self-isolating during a pandemic, it’s about isolating wheneveryou’re sick. It’s about not sending your kids to school and not going to work, which of course cannot be done on a personal level. People need basic economic security if we’re ever going to have health security.
This means obvious stuff like sick leave, but also less obvious stuff like universal basic income so no one is choosing between health and hunger. Honestly, if you look at any health problem, it comes down to conditions of human neglect and misery. If people are working sick and depending on school for childcare, that isn’t just bad for them. It’s bad for everybody.
No one is safe until everyone is safe. That’s not just a pandemic mantra. That’s how it has always been. The pandemic just shows us in stark relief.
One thing the pandemic has shown us is the importance of ventilations. The best way to picture COVID’s spread is as a series of deadly, contagious farts. That really impresses upon you the importance of cracking a fucking window.
The weird thing is that poorer people often have better ventilation. Outside of factories and cramped accommodation of course, where the poor are literally living inside of rich people’s capital. Traditional, rural architecture is naturally ventilated, and our rush to close off and climate-control everything has actually been a disaster for breathability.
For example, when I go to my ‘village’ level grama niladhari, his office is just a room with open doors and windows. Only one person goes in at a time. Everyone else waits outside. This is actually great, the ventilation is excellent. You just have to look out for bird shit.
In contrast, the Divisional Secretariat is a shiny new office building with central elevators and all the windows closed. It’s nice cause has AC, but it’s not fucking nice now. In this year of our lord COVID-19 I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I was holding my breath. There’s absolutely no ventilation.
It’s like this everywhere.
Rural/older hospitals in Sri Lanka have outdoor corridors and windows and doors thrown open. Urban hospitals, in contrasts, are fully-AC’d rats nests of concrete corridors and stale air.
Rural Sri Lankan schools are traditionally a rooms with a half-wall, air blows merrily across the top. Richer and private schools, however, are all completely enclosed. Opening a window was never even thought of, and it certainly doesn’t have windows on both sides.
As you can see in Sri Lanka, modern architecture obliterated the traditional emphasis of natural ventilation to install artificial air conditioning. But this just makes the air cooler, it doesn’t make it more clean. The opposite, actually.
Our most prominent architect, Geoffrey Bawa, actually went against this trend. He emphasized cross-ventilation everywhere, including when he built a government office, the Mahaweli Building (below). Unfortunately, he was blowing against the wind at the time.
I used to laugh at the Mahaweli Building. It looked super weird and the staff had obviously given up and slapped ACs everywhere. I love Bawa, but I thought this was his biggest failure. I was wrong. The winds have changed, and they’re full of fucking respiratory disease.
When Bawa designed the Mahaweli Building, he copied the traditional ‘half-wall’ idea from rural Sri Lankan schools. As Dr. Tan Beng Kiang and Professor David Robson said:
These horizontal ventilation slots allow unimpeded airflow into the building even if the windows are closed (see figure 3). In Sri Lanka, a similar strategy is used in schools but the detail was a much simpler one. Here, Bawa developed this idea of allowing air in and yet still protected from rain with a more complex cross section.
As you can see, the top of each floor is open and lets airflow in. Like a rural classroom. He just modified the design to make it smaller and protect from the rain. The staircase, elevators, and bathrooms were located at the edge, not the usual center, so they could be naturally ventilated. This is also more in line with vernacular design. In truth what we call fancy ‘sustainable’ architecture is really what people were doing for fucking centuries.
Bawa’s Mahaweli Building was very well-adapted to the Sri Lankan climate and the future, but people were like ‘da fuq?’ Over time the building got closed-off, slapped full of ACs and just looked weird.
I used to sorta laugh when I went past, but who’s laughing now? Dude was right. He was wrong for the dengue epidemic (mosquito-borne) but right for COVID-19. Since it’s COVID-∞, we have to start designing all buildings with ventilation in mind.
Professionally wrong pundits like The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols have said “People die in natural disasters of all kinds, but we don’t reorganize society around a permanent fear of natural disasters.”
He has been roundly ratioed because this is just idiocy. What does he think a roof is? You could say that human society itself is organized around the fear of natural disasters. Besides fire codes, earthquake codes, and flooding protection, the most obvious we protect against natural health disasters is sanitation.
This has been a drastic and very successful reorganization of human society. Sanitation led to the greatest increase in human life expectancy, ever.
Just as cholera led to advances in clean water, COVID-19 has to drive improvements in sanitation as well. Besides clean air, we also have to build public health infrastructure into our cities and lives. Interestingly, the sewer systems are a great place to start. Future sanitation starts from past sanitation.
Wastewater monitoring can detect trace levels of pathogens across entire populations. We can test entire cities, through poop. If a novel pathogen is sequenced anywhere in the world, places with wastewater monitoring can detect it there. This won’t tell you what toilet and butt the virus is coming from, but it narrows it down to the point that you can lockdown and test entire neighborhoods.
I go over this and mored detailed ideas in What We SHOULD Learn From The Pandemic. The general takeaway is that our general idea of sanitation needs to expand to include public health infrastructure (testing, quarantine centers) as well as just separating waste. We also need to separate disease.
It’s weird watching western media debate this stuff because it’s honestly just basic hygiene.
But then the Wall Street Journal is publishing Here’s Why I’ll Be Keeping My Shoes on in Your Shoeless Home and people are hoarding toilet paper instead of just washing their butts. These aren’t people with a strong sense of establishedhygiene, let alone new concepts.
But that’s all this is. Just basic hygiene.
Cover your face when there’s stuff coming out of it. Stay home when you’re sick. Crack a fucking window when the air is bad, don’t shit where you eat. You don’t need endless studies and debate for this. It’s honestly just a matter of common sense and common decency.
We’re never going back to the old normal, where people never wore masks and hung out with sick people in enclosed places. Why would you want to? Knowing what we know now, that shit was just dirty.
As an example, before I met my wife I happily ate prawns. She, however, looks at each prawn to see if the poop shoot has been removed, and it often isn’t. So now I check and it ruins some meals for me. Before I was just happily eating poop, but do I want to go back to that old normal? Fuck no. You live, you learn. Normal is a moving target.
I hate the term ‘new normal’, but for lack of a better phrase, that’s what pandemic hygiene needs to be. There are some things that COVID should change forever. We have been bitterly forced to learn some healthier ways to be.
- What We SHOULD Learn From The Pandemic
- Everyone Has Two Immune Systems
- Treat COVID-19 Like A Bad Fart