Covid-19 – Sanitary self-defence

The Covid-19 pandemic has been going on for about 2 years, and unfortunately it’s far from being over. As official information is often non-existent, sometimes misleading, and always difficult to find, we propose this guide which seeks to centralize information, synthesize the situation and how to protect ourselves collectively.

We have done our best to collect and synthesise the information, but please remember that we are not health professionals. This guide is not a substitute for consulting health services.

If you see any errors in this guide, please let us know at contact@stjv.fr

What is Covid-19?

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Transmission

Viruses have different means of transmission, and sometimes combine several of them. In the case of Covid-19, transmission is mainly airborne.

This means that it is spread through the air, by aerosols exhaled by infected people. Aerosols are particles and micro-droplets which, in the absence of air renewal, remain airborne and can be breathed in by other people present. As we are talking about breathing, transmission may happen through both the mouth and the nose, hence the importance of properly wearing masks to cover both.

As air gets mixed very quickly, especially in indoor spaces, it is important to understand that its diffusion is global and not concentrated in a small area. Think of cigarette smoke: although it is rather concentrated when exhaled, it diffuses very quickly in a room. You can no longer see it, but you can still smell it for a long time because the particles emitted are still there. The same phenomenon occurs with the air exhaled by a contaminated person.

Symptoms

Covid-19 is a disease much more complex than a “simple flu” as it is often referred to.

It can affect many organs, not only the respiratory tract. In particular, it can infect the central nervous system, including the brain, which causes loss of taste and/or smell.

The most common symptoms are a flu-like condition (fever, alternating heat and chills), congestion of the nose and throat, severe fatigue, loss of taste and/or smell.

An infected person will not necessarily have all the symptoms. They may be only a few and very mild, and it is even possible to be ill and yet remain completely asymptomatic.

On the other hand, in the worst cases, Covid-19 can cause respiratory distress, myocarditis and/or bacterial superinfection, symptoms that can lead to death in infected persons.

Severity

Its mortality rate may be deceptively presented as ‘low’ by those seeking to minimise its real danger. But we must not neglect the danger of this virus, which is much more deadly than diseases such as the flu for example. As a reminder, it is directly responsible for more than 125,000 deaths in France and 5.5 million worldwide since the beginning of the epidemic, and these figures are most probably underestimated.

It should also be noted that these are deaths that would not have occurred without the epidemic, so we cannot accept the argument that “these people were going to die anyway”. Not to mention that the death of tens of thousands of people, on the pretext that they are frail, is unacceptable in the first place.

Each hospital admission of a Covid-19 patient uses public hospitals resources , which we know have already been damaged by decades of criminal policies reducing their resources. By saturating hospitals with patients, Covid-19 considerably deteriorates the treatment of other pathologies, sometimes severe, leading in particular to the cancellation of operations that are “less urgent” but nevertheless vital. The overall mortality rate in the population is thus increased, and these indirect deaths are also due to Covid-19. It is estimated that excess mortality (deaths in excess of those statistically expected) can reach 110% in some countries, which is enormous.

Long Covid

A significant proportion of people infected with Covid-19 suffer from long-term symptoms, such as chronic fatigue or pain, breathing difficulties, etc., long after they have recovered from the disease. These symptoms are referred to as “long covid“.

Still relatively poorly understood at the moment, initial hypotheses, yet to be confirmed, speak in particular of long-term vascular effects that may lead to cardiovascular diseases much later in life, or of an increased risk of developing diabetes.

The precautionary principle dictates that this disease should not be treated as a temporary cold, especially for children, who are still magically considered “risk-free”.

How to protect oneself from it

Protection against Covid-19 is based on a multitude of measures, none of which is sufficient in itself. Each one plays a specific role and contributes to a considerable reduction of contamination risks and severe forms of the disease.

Personal protection

Masks

In general, the purpose of masks is to filter the air breathed in and out in order to trap airborne particles that could carry the virus.

Wearing a mask, especially in indoor or poorly ventilated areas, has several advantages:

  • it reduces the likelihood of being contaminated by other people (present or not)
  • it reduces the risk of contaminating others in turn
  • even if you are infected, it reduces the viral load, i‧e. the amount of virus in the air, and therefore the chances of infection

It is important to wear your mask correctly so that it is effective and allows as little air as possible to pass over the sides:

  • properly tightened, the contours should sit on the face
  • the nose clip should be bent to fit the shape of the nose

There are different types of masks:

  • Fabric masks are ineffective, they only filter the largest droplets, and generally let air through. They were only used initially because the country had a shortage of surgical and FFP2 masks. They should be left out.
  • Surgical masks are better than nothing, but they are no longer enough. Not airtight, they only filter air a little. Their main role is rather to redirect it, so as not to blow the virus directly towards others. While this does indeed reduce infections, it provides much less protection and for a shorter time than FFP2 masks. With the Delta and now Omicron variants, which have a very high viral load, they have become insufficient, especially indoors.
  • FFP2 masks must become the new standard. They truly filters inhaled and exhaled air, protecting the wearer AND those around them. It is easy to wear, can be worn all day, reused (by letting it “dry” for several days between uses) and offers very good protection.

For more detailed information on masks, please consult this INRS FAQ.

Having to go to work in closed and/or densely frequented premises without widespread use of FFP2 masks is too risky. We ask that these be provided free of charge by companies in place of the surgical masks that most companies have been providing until now.

Hand washing

Hand washing is a good thing no matter what. It is a good hygiene measure in general, and reduces exposure to a number of diseases (e. g. gastroenteritis).

However, it should be noted that Covid-19 is spread primarily by air. It is therefore not through physical contact that one is most likely to contract it. Hand washing is useful, but does not in itself offer sufficient protection.

The provision of hand sanitising gel is also not a sufficient or effective measure against Covid-19.

Ventilation

Since the virus is spread through the air, renewing the air regularly will greatly limit its concentration in the air and therefore the risk of contamination. Ventilation is a simple measure that can be applied in all situations.

The easiest way to assess the level of ventilation in a room and to know when aeration is necessary is to use CO2 sensors. The concentration of CO2 in the air is a good indicator of air renewal, and allows to set up protocols adapted to the measured levels and able to protect workers from Covid-19.

The normal level outside a pollution episode is 450ppm. The recommendations for maximum thresholds are as follows:

  • maximum 600ppm in catering premises where wearing a mask is not possible
  • maximum 800ppm in places where wearing a mask is possible and required

Above these thresholds, it is necessary to evacuate the premises and aerate them until the CO2 concentration returns to normal levels.

Companies regularly try to absolve themselves by claiming that they have a ventilation and/or air conditioning system built into the building. This is not sufficient, as it does not ensure that the air is sufficiently renewed, and it is usually not filtered. Simply cooling contaminated air is useless and dangerous, in particular, air conditioning systems that recycle air increase the concentration of the virus in the air rather than reduce it.

CO2 sensors are cheap for companies and institutions, and relatively easy to use. These points cannot be used as an argument for not using them. There are many different kinds of sensors, for more information on them, including a buying guide, we advise you to visit this community website (in French): http://nousaerons.fr/

We demand the installation of CO2 sensors in all companies to measure CO2 levels directly at workstations, and the effective implementation of evacuation and ventilation protocols.

Social distancing

As the virus is exhaled by infected people, not getting too close logically reduces direct exposure to air with a high concentration of virus.

While distancing is a good practice, it is highly insufficient. In particular, distancing without any other measures (wearing a FFP2 mask, frequent ventilation) is useless in indoor environments.

As said before, with air circulation the virus will be present in the whole room in a few minutes, and at that moment it will not matter how far people are from each other. The main advantage of distancing is that it reduces the number of people in the room: the fewer people there are, the lower the viral concentration in the air.

Vaccination

It is important to get vaccinated and to get booster shots (currently 3rd dose for most people). It is one of the key elements to protect oneself and others.

The vaccine helps in several ways:

  • it reduces the risk of being infected
  • it greatly reduces the severity of the disease if you are infected
  • it reduces the risk of transmission if infection occurs

While, contrary to the misleading communications of some ministries, vaccination is not a miracle cure, as it does not completely prevent infection and/or illness, it is very effective.

Unfortunately, access to the vaccine is unequal in many ways (age, mobility, computer literacy, geographical location, etc.). This reality, much more than the anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, explains why a portion of the population is still not vaccinated. The State is not fulfilling its role in this respect, on the contrary, so let’s pay attention to those around us and help those who need it to be able to get vaccinated.

Remote work & isolation

Remote work means not having to take public transport, not having to work in an enclosed space with many people who all have other contacts (family, children, people at risk…), and not having to negate the whole point of wearing a mask by taking it off to eat lunch.

Each person who works from home is one less person likely to carry the virus from one place to another, thus reducing the risks for people who cannot work in this way. This is arguably the most effective measure to break the chain of transmission of the virus.

We are concerned here with the global aspect, without denying the particularities of individual situations. Remote work may not be possible or desirable for some people, but this should not prevent its general implementation.

As soon as the epidemic situation requires it, remote work should become systematic in companies that are able to do so, and this is the case in video game studios.

The government has currently (January 2022) made remote work mandatory for a minimum of 4 days per week.

The need to multiply measures

Fighting Covid-19 is a combination of personal and general measures. Society cannot shift responsibility onto individuals, as the government is trying to do, but our individual actions also have an effect.

To represent the need to apply all these different measures, the so-called Swiss cheese model is used.

Each measure alone is not enough to protect oneself properly, as it has its flaws. But by applying all of them, we obtain sufficient protection to contain the epidemic, because they combine their effectiveness.

The political causes of the pandemic

Finally, let’s not forget that the current situation is the result of recent but also very old political decisions, at the French and international levels. Fighting the epidemic in the long term will also, and above all, be done on this front.

By promoting and inciting environmental destruction (climate change, deforestation, intensive livestock farming, destruction of natural habitats, etc.), the capitalist economy is directly responsible for the emergence of numerous epidemics, including coronaviruses. There is every reason to believe that this will intensify in the near future if nothing is done at the ecological level.

In France, the fiasco of the 2020 mask shortage is the direct consequence of the last 15 years of political management. To cover its tracks and deny its responsibility, the government lied to the whole country by denying the usefulness of masks, which deprived us of a precious tool to counter the epidemic, before doing a U-turn and making it compulsory to wear them as if nothing had happened, which fed the anti-mask discourse. It is currently doing the same with FFP2 masks: while all medical and scientific circles agree on its necessity, the government is lying by claiming that it is not necessary.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Minister of Education, the reactionary Jean-Michel Blanquer, continues to keep schools open and deny reality. While even the government pointed to schools as the main place of spreading the omicron variant, the start of the 2022 school year has been maintained with a “protocol” that has been lightened instead of strengthened. There is now an uncontrolled outbreak of infections, particularly in schools, which puts even more pressure on hospitals, supplies and testing facilities.

The “all-vaccine” strategy implemented in France can be explained in part by the desire of managers and owners to keep businesses open at all costs. By betting on collective immunity, capitalists hope to be able to continue exploiting workers at all costs. This policy, presented as individualistic, is misleading, reduces its effectiveness, feeds anti-vaccine discourse, and serves as an excuse for the President to continue to divide society further. “We are all in this together” is a false and manipulative argument. It has been demonstrated that great inequalities exist in relation to Covid-19. Moreover, the very rich have never been better off.

The emergence of new variants is a logical consequence of the massive circulation of the virus. We can expect this to continue until global vaccine coverage is achieved. But rich countries, including France, are opposed to the lifting of patents on vaccines, which prevents poor countries, especially in Africa, from having access to the vaccine and prevents us from being able to hope to “get out” of this epidemic.