Socially distanced Somerset?

Every week we report on the data, the hard(ish) numbers behind the COVID 19 pandemic in Somerset. We share the key messages and try and assess where things are going. And recently the trend has been for an increase in the number of cases. Not a significant, nor yet an alarming increase, but an increase nevertheless.

Sometimes though, anecdote speaks louder and more to the point, than data. Over the past couple of days we have been out delivering the September edition of The Leveller®. In a weekend that has had some decent weather. A weekend that is the last before new stricter measures on social interaction come into place on Monday.

Generally speaking the rules around wearing masks in shops and enclosed spaces seem to be being heeded. Many shops, cafes and restaurants limit the number of customers in the premises. Some have one way systems and most have generally have thought through social distancing.

Outside is a different matter. Time and again we witnessed mixed crowds of all ages enjoying the sunshine and town centre spaces. Very few people wore masks outside (and the rules say you don’t have to). But there was no sign of social distancing. People did not seem to have any sense of a need to keep 2 metres apart, being wary of the proximity of others. In the absence of proper social distancing, at least wearing a mask can mitigate matters a little. But very few people are wearing masks outdoors. We saw no-one wearing gloves aside from staff in shops, cafes and restaurants.

Many of these premises have hand sanitisers on the way in. Not everyone stops to use them.

This probably all sounds a bit po-faced. It is I stress only observation. We weren’t running round with tape measures! The problem though is obvious for all to see. And it matters. The R number in Somerset has been quoted at around 1 for several weeks. We cannot act as if the virus has gone away. Government is currently talking about escalating numbers of new cases and some medics on the SAGE advisory group are talking about the virus as on the brink of being out of control.

The numbers may be small in Somerset, but that doesn’t mean they will stay that way. Especially if we do not follow strict hygiene and social distancing rules.

With schools back, many workplaces returned to some form of new normal, the degree of social interaction is increasing. This is the point at which we need to be vigilant, more than at any time in the past few months.

Instead, the natural human instinct to be social beings is taking us in the other direction. The one thing that would surely be disastrous to Somerset right now, would be another lockdown. The economic and social cost of that will be hard to bear.

Here in Somerset and across the UK as a whole.

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