Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Protection, not panic must be our guide

Threat moving folks from cautious to kooky

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If you're wearing a paper mask in public (and it's not Halloween), knock it off.

You're not protecting yourself from disease. You're panicking the people around you, who wonder which virulent illness you've got.

They're also wondering why you're not in bed if you're that seriously ill.

If you're sick, stay home. If you're well, don't lick any doorknobs.

It's not quite that simple but it's mighty close.

The spectre of H1N1 has caused waves of global panic. People have died. Many more will die. There is no taking this pandemic casually.

People in high-risk categories for becoming seriously ill or dying from H1N1 will be first in line for the vaccine Monday. Some people who aren't in the high-risk categories still want the shot as a precaution.

But there's some evidence folks are moving from flu cautious to kooky.

I've kept Clorox in business this year, wiping down phones, the fridge door and the door knobs in my house. If my kids have touched something, it gets the bleach treatment.

Is this an overreaction? I don't know. It makes me feel like I'm doing something.

My grocery store has anti-bacterial wipes by the carts. You can wipe off the germs of the person who came before you. I can't do anything about the guy who coughs on the produce but the cart is clean.

This level of enhanced cleanliness has become the new normal.

Some people, especially those who deal with the public, say they don't care if they're erring of the side of caution.

"There are a lot more people I see coughing into their arms," concedes Richard Holland, owner of Shefield Express at Grant Park Shopping Centre. He keeps a bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter.

"I notice the kids are taking it seriously. I had a group of kids in Grade 7 the other day. They all had their little hand sanitizers and they were using them. I don't know. Maybe it's trendy."

Holland and his staff sell lottery tickets, drinks and the like. He says seniors are a mainstay of his business and they're not changing their behaviour for any old bug.

"My staff get coughed on a lot," he says. "I'm making sure everyone on my staff goes for the shot."

Seniors Bill and Elsie Toothill say they're taking advantage of the vaccine.

"The best doctors in the world are saying you should get it," Bill Toothill says. His wife concurs.

"We've already had our seasonal flu shot," she says. "We're going to get the H1N1 vaccine too."

Elsie Toothill says she might only hesitate if she were a pregnant woman. They're a high-risk category but many expectant mothers are afraid of the vaccine.

Candice Homewood, 29, is one of those women. She's 15 weeks pregnant and has no intention of getting the vaccine.

"I think the media has blown this somewhat out of proportion," she says eating lunch at Tim Hortons with her husband Tyler. "I just don't pay much attention to it."

Tyler agrees. He practises good hand-washing techniques, he says, but that's as far as it goes. He's convinced a good blend of vitamins, minerals and healthy eating is all he needs.

A recent Jory Capital-Probe Research poll found that two-thirds of Manitobans are washing their hands more frequently since the virus became known. One in four adults reported using hand sanitizer. Approximately 20 per cent have started coughing into their sleeves instead of their hand. A handful of Manitobans have stopped shaking hands or begun wearing surgical masks or gloves.

Thirteen per cent said they aren't doing anything differently.

Dr. Sande Harlos, medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, says there's no reason for panic in the streets. Her best advice? Use common sense.

Cover your cough. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Not sure how long to wash? Sing your ABCs. Use hand sanitizer only when you can't get to soap and water. There's no need to wash your hands thoroughly and then use sanitizer.

"If you're thinking about it all the time, that's excessive. If you're not doing things you enjoy, not going out or denying yourself things you enjoy, that's excessive."

People who are well, Harlos said, should not be wearing masks.

"When you wear a mask you heighten fear. If you're sick you should stay home."

I heard much of this at my mother's knee. Wash your hands. Cover your mouth. If Harlos had added "stand up straight" she would have hit the trifecta.

If we can just find a way to make that guy stop coughing on the produce, I'll sleep a little bit easier.

Right after I get my shot.

 

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2009 A11

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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