Letters & Opinion

The COVID-19 Protocols: Detecting an Attitudinal Problem

By Sylvestre Phillip M.B.E.

Ministry of Health personnel in St. Lucia and the Chief Medical Officer in particular, have been relentless in their call to inform and encourage persons to follow the protocols which are in place for their safety and that of others, against the COVID-19 virus. And the vital protocols are: The wearing of masks, washing of hands and keeping a distance of at least six feet away from another person.

On Saturday, 13th February, 2021 at 9:30a.m. I set out to conduct some brief research on the wearing of masks. The object of the investigation was to determine whether persons were adhering to the protocol of the proper wearing of a mask.

The instrument used was observation. I stood on Jeremie Street close to the Grande Riviere Bus Stop and observed a random sample of 100 persons coming from upper Jeremie Street from the Jannou Credit Union area, Chisel Street with its junction with Jeremie Street, and Coral Street with its junction with Jeremie Street from the Taxi Stand area.

The following is the result of my observation: 14 persons, 14% were not wearing any masks at all, 28 persons, 28% had on a mask but were exposed; that is the mask was way below their chin. In summary, 42% of the persons observed were exposed. Tragic, isn’t it?

By way of transfer of knowledge, let us determine that the City of Castries had 65,000 persons who had to be observed, it means that 27,3000 persons would be exposed, allowing the virus to have its own way.

That gives us an indication for the spike in numbers.

The results of the survey gives an indication of the attitude of the populace, at least in Castries, towards the wearing of masks. Now when I say attitude what exactly do I mean?

A quite simple meaning of attitude is a way of thinking or feeling of someone which is reflected in his or her behaviour.

Now social media has ben rife with misinformation about the wearing of masks, the taking of vaccines, and the coronavirus generally. That information is quite easily accepted and propagated by many people in our various communities.

Very recently I was travelling on a minibus, and the driver had his mask below his chin which is unacceptable. And from my window, I could see several workers in the Grande Riviere Road Construction Project, working without a mask. I drew it to the attention of the driver who then said “That’s nothing!” Immediately that gave me some indication of how he was thinking which the reason is why he was wearing the mass below his chin.

Now as an educator and someone ‘stepped’ in research skills, I continued to provoke his thoughts as we travelled.

Then he suddenly went emotionally out of control: “I have just returned from France where the people believe that the Corona Virus and the wearing of a mask is a big joke. The people there are not even wearing a mask. But here in St. Lucia the authorities have you all wearing masks”. Then he gave me a “jab” with some French language. By that time, I was convinced that I would not be able to chance that man’s thinking in the rest of the time we have left on the bus to Castries. So, I remained quiet. I have not seen him since. Maybe the next time I see him, he would still be wearing his mask below the chin.

A lot of our people are thinking like that driver. They are laden with false or inaccurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines.

Now it is not easy to change people’s way of thinking or cognition. By cognition I mean, the mental processes relating to the input and output of information or knowledge and how the information or knowledge is used to guide one’s behaviour.

It is important to say that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has a lot of work to do to change the way our people think about COVID-19 and vaccines, considering that they have been bombarded with a lot of misinformation on Social Media and other avenues.

Indeed, government has already begun to give vaccines to our people. But I am convinced that not enough has been done to educate people on the importance of taking the vaccine which would enable them to change their way of thinking about the vaccine, to remain safe and healthy.

I know that they can do it because they have been able to use several artistes and other groups to disseminate information to the public since the arrival of COVID-19 to St. Lucia. And they have been doing very well! But they have now “dropped the ball”.

A few days ago, I listened to Dr. Merle Clarke and Dr. Merissa Leonce who were providing a lot of pertinent information to the public on Radio 100 with Andre Paul. But they were doing so as members of the Medical and Dental association.

The government Public Relations Machinery must now be utilized and get the correct information across to the people to encourage them to take the vaccine.

Now the government must vaccinate about 75% of the population in order to feel comfortable with the COVID-19 virus. Is comfortable the right word? Or is it safe?

Let us not leave it to Dr. Fauci and the Chief Executive Officer of Johnson and Johnson to tell us. Let us do it ourselves because we do have the experts in Health and Wellness in St. Lucia.

I was saddened to hear that some of our nurses and doctors had been infected by the COVID-19 virus in the service of their fellowmen and visitors. I am extremely grateful to them for that selfless sacrifice that they have made for us. It is my desire to see them return to complete health and be recognised as our “Health Heroes”.

In fact, when it’s all over, we need to find meaningful ways to say a big thank you to all frontline staff in all organisations throughout the country. By organisations I mean elderly homes, government offices and business organisations, to name a few.

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