Wed | Oct 20, 2021

Masking a struggle

Most J’cans accept benefit of protective covering in COVID fight but find it hard to comply

Published:Sunday | September 19, 2021 | 4:36 PM
Nicholas Nunes/Photographer 
With little regard for social-distancing and mask mandates, people conduct business in a section of downtown Kingston on August 20, 2021.
Nicholas Nunes/Photographer With little regard for social-distancing and mask mandates, people conduct business in a section of downtown Kingston on August 20, 2021.
Professor Peter Figueroa
Professor Peter Figueroa
Dr Peta-Anne Baker.
Dr Peta-Anne Baker.
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Although most Jamaicans believe mask-wearing – not vaccines – is the most effective tool to fight the deadly COVID-19, it is also the one the majority of people admit they struggle to comply with, an RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson poll has...

Although most Jamaicans believe mask-wearing – not vaccines – is the most effective tool to fight the deadly COVID-19, it is also the one the majority of people admit they struggle to comply with, an RJRGLEANER-commissioned Don Anderson poll has found.

Wearing face masks is required in all public places and the flouting of the rules has thrown up questions about the Government’s approach to ensuring compliance with measures, as well echo the concerning lack of public faith in vaccines.

However, public-health expert Professor Peter Figueroa has noted that the poll findings come just six months into Jamaica’s vaccination drive, with significant opportunities for attitudes to change.

Asked for the most effective measure to fight COVID-19, 30 per cent of the respondents said masks; 22 per cent agreed with staying at home; and 12 per cent said social distancing.

Only 11 per cent indicated that vaccines were the most effective, which is in line with scientific evidence that asserts that the jab is the singlemost crucial tool to reducing severe cases of COVID and hospitalisation.

Regular hand-washing and curfews were the two lowest-ranked options. Just three per cent of the respondents said these measures were the most effective.

The poll also revealed, however, that Jamaicans are struggling with the same measure a majority believes to be vital to fighting the coronavirus that has infected close to 80,000 people locally.

Almost half of the people interviewed said wearing masks (32 per cent) and social distancing (17 per cent) were the most difficult measures to comply with, raising images of crowded public places such as tax offices and transportation hubs as well as cramped housing situations.

Vaccines (15 per cent); curfews (13 per cent) and staying at home (13 per cent) followed as measures found tough to follow.

Figueroa said the responses seem “appropriate”, given the recent introduction of vaccines and the doubts Jamaicans have of the different measures being relied on by the Andrew Holness administration to control the virus locally.

“Of course, the most important thing to really prevent getting COVID is the vaccine, but, even after you’re vaccinated, because it’s not 100 per cent [effective] all the time, it is highly effective against preventing severe COVID, but a person could still get infected, although it’s less likely – it still is better to wear your mask and maintain physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoid crowds,” argued Figueroa, who is based at The University of the West Indies, Mona.

Want to see others get vaccine first

“All those answers, I think, are dead on, and I think most people are coming ‘round to the view that definitely, it suits them to get the vaccine. But it’s understandable that some people are a little more cautious than others. They want to see others get it first,” he added. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation on social media. They want reassurance from their doctors.”

Figueroa said it is also a positive sign that an overwhelming majority of the respondents (89 per cent) believe the emphasis on washing hands regularly and using sanitisers will outlive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Avoiding crowded places, socially distancing and mask-wearing complete the top five changes, Jamaicans feel will dominate public hygiene practices in the post-COVID era.

The compliance struggles emerging from the poll highlight a vaccination programme that was not very localised and the failure of policymakers to adapt measures to the daily lifestyles of Jamaicans, argued social development specialist Dr Peta-Anne Baker.

“How can you put the vaccination in Spanish Town or even Linstead and expect me, who live in Guy’s Hill, to readily be able to get there? And I understand the shortage of staff, ... but I think they were very, very – still are – so off the mark to equip other people,” she said, pointing to centralised distance vaccination sites believed to have been too distant to incentivise travel from people living in remote areas.

Baker said the problems of compliance with COVID-19 protocols may also have been influenced by an approach that is too urban-focused and with a lack of appreciation of Jamaicans’ experience interacting with government agencies.

“If I have historically not had a good experience with institutions, yes, I may know the nurse at the centre or the doctor who really spent time with me the last time, but, institutionally, my experience has been primarily negative, or at least questionable, why would you think that if you get up and tell me that I need to go over there instead of over here I’m going to agree with you?”

COVID-19 has claimed more than 1,700 Jamaican lives, but even that may not be enough to drive adherence to measures without a more tailored message, the specialist contended.

“The people who live in certain communities, getting out of their beds – even going to their beds at nights – poses a greater threat of death than catching COVID, because they can see around them that people go to their beds and man come in a shoot them in their heads and you’re telling me about this mysterious thing?” said Baker, who is also a social work academic.

Last week, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told Parliament that enforcement of measures was difficult for the State, given resource constraints that face the security forces. He, instead, urged Jamaicans to comply and get vaccinated.

The health ministry has also modified its vaccination strategy even incorporating mobile vaccination sites to target deep rural areas. Religious leaders have also been drawn into the pro-vaccine message.

About seven per cent of the island’s population of approximately 2.9 million is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The poll was conducted between August 19 and September 3 among 1,003 respondents.

It has a margin of error of plus/minus three per cent.

editorial@gleanerjm.com