Unsung heroes of the covid19 wars

Paolo Kernahan

EVEN THOUGH I'm fully vaccinated with the Sinopharm vaccine it might as well be mauby. Accordingly, I am militant to the point of seeming ridiculous to others when I poke my head above ground in public.

In the age of covid19 even the most routine activities or behaviours must be considered life-threatening.

I find myself darting through doorways when others approach, apparently intending to squeeze through the same doorway with me.

I'd rather look stupid than end up wheezing on a gurney while healthcare workers sail past me by like indifferent icebergs.

It's not easy out there in the jungle of ignorance. Just last week on a high-risk mission to the grocery I was confronted by an old-timer visibly miffed by the space left vacant between myself and the person in front of me. He was clutching three beers in one hand between the webbing of his fingers – eagle-fist style. "Move forward!" he energetically motioned with the sign language of irritation.

I ignored him as he steupsed silently behind a mask so dirty I thought it was a beard. As my turn at the conveyor belt arrived, I moved forward. I put my items on the belt and suddenly felt the man's nearness on my back. He was laying his items out as well, within spittle distance of me!

Unsung heroes of the covid19 wars

We often sing the praises of "frontline workers" in the fight against this pernicious disease. Yet we don't celebrate enough the contributions of the everyman in the war against willfulness and impacted ignorance that create an environment favouring the contagion.

In a neighbourhood grocery, I often see staffers risk physical tussles and, at the very least, aerosolised cussouts from ornery Trinis. This place, in particular, seems to attract covid-slack citizens. Recently, a man entered while gabbing on his phone wearing his mask around his neck like a cravat.

A no-nonsense cashier shouted, "Hello, hello, hello! Finish dat talk outside or put on your mask please!" He sheepishly complied and stepped outside.

In the same community grocery, there's a ramshackle washbasin outside for customers. It's basically a garden hose fed through a cheap sink and a $20 tap. But water is water and soap is soap. Still, most customers tend to bypass this hygiene step.

In the grocery there's a security guard – well, he's really a grocery bouncer with a fanny pack. More often than not he's hidden behind stacks of bottled water. He sees who hasn't washed their hands and ambushes them with a spray bottle of a suspect-looking, milky liquid. "Come, hole out yuh hand!" You either take a spritzing with that homemade concoction that looks like a blend of watered-down rubbing alcohol and Sevin powder, or go back to the washbasin and rub-a-dub-dub.

What's not to love about a business that enforces appropriate conduct for the safety of all patrons?

This is something I also experienced at a pharmacy in Diego Martin some time ago. At this location, a security guard stands by the door to ensure entrants wash their hands and submit to the temperature check, useless though that check may be. On one occasion, the guard stopped a hulking brute intent on entering without doing either. "I done wash my hands in the grostry and all over de place! I not doing it!" He pushed past the diminutive guard and stomped inside.

As he laid out armfuls of items at the counter, though, the guard sidled up to the cashier and said, "Doh cyash him eh, he just barge in here!" Hilarious!

The doubles box is typically a notoriously chaotic setting. Seeing customers queue for their doubles is as jarring as seeing a dog opening a fridge. On my most recent trip to my doubles agent, a woman, intending to eat her doubles on the spot, pulled down her mask right next to the vendor. "Yuh could just go ovah dey please...," he beckoned her, pointing to the sun-drenched car park.

Every day these unsung heroes fight one of the most important battles in the war against covid19 – behaviour change. They're doing it one person at a time, often at risk to themselves.

So I salute these brave souls. If we had more of them, I dare say we'd be faring far better against this pandemic. Pushing back against ignorance is a quality of courage that, if it were more common, would see off many of the challenges that have this nation mired in recurrent failure.