LATELY, we have read about/heard numerous complaints about supermarkets denying entry to customers who aren’t wearing masks. This is a wise move by the managements of supermarkets, as the latest recommendations by the US Centers for Disease Control is that people should wear masks in public, especially where social distancing is not possible.
The rationale is that some people can test positive for Covid-19 but do not develop symptoms. During this asymptomatic period, these infected people can be contagious. There-fore, if everyone wears a mask, we can protect one another, reducing overall community transmission.
However, the mask need not be surgical quality or N95 masks as these need to be reserved for healthcare frontliners. The public can use homemade cloth masks that have multiple layers of fabrics, that allow for breathing without difficulty, fit snugly on the sides of the face, can be secured with ties or ear loops, and can be washed without damaging the mask.
As for supermarkets and grocery stores, some are following preventive measures very well, but some are not. Management of such establishments are strongly encouraged to implement these measures:
> Ensure all employees are in optimum health by taking their temperature daily and enforce mask-wearing for all. Those with high temperatures must not be allowed to work and must be directed to see a doctor immediately.
> Take the temperature of all customers at the entrance and deny entry to those with a high temperature.
> Ensure all customers are wearing masks (cloth masks are acceptable) in an appropriate way.
> Provide hand sanitiser for customers at the entrance and exit.
> Enforce social distancing at the entrance if there is a queue; enforce social distancing within the supermarket by limiting the number of customers at any one time.
> Enforce social distancing in the queue for payment.
> Offer for sale single masks to customers who come without one.
Most supermarkets are implementing the first five measures but not all control the number of customers inside. And we have seen people crowding counters selling popular items like vegetables, fruits and chicken. We also have seen payment queues without the 1m distance between each customer.
Turning a customer away for not wearing a face mask or forcing him/her to buy a box of face masks when he/she only needs one piece is unreasonable. The management should be empathetic and offer single masks for sale to enable the customer to do his/her shopping. This would be a win-win situation.
People planning to visit grocery stores/supermarkets should wear a mask, maintain social distancing (at the entrance, within the premises and in the payment queue) and practise hand hygiene (use hand sanitiser). All these measures need to be practised to help stop the transmission of Covid-19.
DR MOY FOONG MING
Professor in Epidemiology, Department of Social & Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya
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