Swiss Cheese is What We Need in Fighting Covid
I have two words for you. Swiss cheese. This analogy is one of the things that we need for us to succeed in curbing the raging and rather scary SARS-COV-2 transmission rate.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I will tell you to wear your face masks and face shields. I will tell you to observe a good amount of distance from the plebs, myself included. I will tell you to be a team player and just do what the government asks of you. I will tell you to get vaccinated. You are right. I will say these things but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Had I been in power in some parallel universe, I would never place the burden of responsibility solely on the shoulders of the unwashed masses. Never. That reeks of privilege.
Before I start spewing expletives and showing you my own brand of madness, let me walk you through the swiss cheese analogy. Apologies if you are a policy analyst, a public administration expert, a risk analyst, an aviation management professional, or someone who has applied or is currently applying this analogy in your own field. I know you already know the definition of said analogy but let’s cover all bases so no one will be lost in translation.
The Swiss Cheese Analogy recognises that there is no single way to prevent risk and failure because it assumes (and rightly so) that every intervention has a hole or a weakness. It’s like a group of people. Some are intellectually challenged, some aren’t and the ones who aren’t have to pick up the slack. If all of them have brains made out of cotton, then you have got yourself a huge problem but that is a story for another day. Think of it as a single slice of Emmental, a type of Swiss cheese. One slice usually has a few holes on it but if you put several slices together, you will see that all holes are covered. This only means one thing. We need several solutions to increase our chances of winning or in the case of the global health crisis, save more lives.
The first few layers fall under personal responsibility. This includes social distancing, staying home during lockdowns, wearing face masks and face shields when going out, frequent handwashing, limiting interactions with other plebs, avoiding unnecessary outings with friends and enemies, observing cough etiquette, getting vaccinated, and looking for well-ventilated areas when out with people and animals.
The next few layers fall under government responsibility and they are as follows: detection through frequent testing, fast and sensitive contact tracing, good border controls, proper messaging, acknowledging that science is king (and not just modern medicine but social sciences, behavioural sciences, etc), have a reasonable definition of what is essential, provide ample financial assistance, employ all available data, ensure food security, put together easy-to-understand and effective quarantine and isolation protocols, line up a lot of quarantine and isolation facilities, increase hospital bed capacity, employ more healthcare professionals and pay them well, ample number of necessary medical equipment, implementation of health protocols, and providing vaccines.
If there is something wrong with any of these layers, our collective protection from the virus will be compromised. But don’t we already have all of these things? As Rosa Parks once said to a bus driver back in 1955, “No”.
It all starts with the predicament of the average citizen as we have a huge role in putting a stop to the pandemic. In the Philippines, citizens are often asked to do their part but what the average Juan must sacrifice during a lockdown is not equal to what a Don Juan will have to sacrifice during the same period. As the rather annoying modern adage says, we are not in the same boat, some have yachts, etc. And while it is irritating because it has been shared a thousand times, it speaks the truth. This is where financial assistance should come in because utility bills still need to be paid and people still need to eat. If this kind of help is not enough, those with very little will not be able to stay home because they will need to go out to earn. And because food is the first priority, they won’t even be able to buy n95 masks to protect themselves. We must not allow Maslow to come back from the dead just so he can knock us all about and we must not let James T. Reason join him either. Two fists are better than four and zero fists are better than two in this scenario. (James T. Reason is the professor who developed the Swiss Cheese Analogy of Accident Causation)
Before the government decides to put the blame on the great unwashed like it is de rigueur, it should not forget to take a look at its own responsibilities. Basic needs must be met at the very least. This is, after all, part of the social contract that we all signed. This does not give anyone the license to go against health protocols though because every layer of protection in our little block of Swiss cheese must stand.
All responsibilities of the government must be fulfilled and no half-twatterry should be tolerated but we must also keep in mind that people will always make mistakes and they also get tired. However, they should not be allowed to make the same mistakes because fixing things would take time, energy, and resources away from more important tasks. But now you see the whole picture — that this is all about balance and an in-depth understanding of all the equations involved. And remember, there are many reasons to listen to Reason.