Month: July 2020

Behind the Mask: An SME’s Guide to Mandatory Masks

The next phase of the government’s response to the pandemic begins on Friday as face coverings become mandatory in various public spaces. It is unclear why exactly the government has chosen to do this. Although the pandemic rages on, we are still seeing sustained decreases in infection rates. A number of explanations have been given, most of which revolve around increasing the confidence of shoppers. Understandably, the government is desperate to give the British economy a jump-start and hope that these measures will encourage demand.

However, if this is the case, it doesn’t seem to explain why the government is punishing non-compliance, rather than simply advising compliance. It is worth re-emphasising then that COVID-19 remains a real danger to public health, as the recent outbreak in Leicester demonstrated. So, if they are effective, wearing a mask would definitely be in the public’s best interest. 

One of the other problems with this new legislation is that it promises to create a whole bunch of complications for small businesses. Our plan with this blog is to untangle some of these, to give small businesses the confidence to weather this phase of the crisis. 

What Are You Legally Required to Do?

From July 24, face coverings will be mandatory in shops, supermarkets and on public transport. It is worth emphasising that pubs, cafés and restaurants are not subject to these rules, according to a government spokesperson contacted by the BBC.

Now, the brunt of the legislation falls on the public, rather than transport operators or business owners. For example, the system of fines attached to these measures only apply to the public. The fine for not wearing a face covering in these public spaces is £100, although this halves to £50 if the perpetrator pays within 14 days. This does not mean that there can be no repercussion for business owners, however – the government has stated that they ‘will be expected to encourage compliance with the law’. It is only that there are no prescribed punishments in the legislation for non-public actors.   

The government does explain how business owners can legally respond to those breaking these new laws. Most notably, businesses can ‘refuse entry’. Since the legislation gives the police the power to fine members of the public, businesses therefore have recourse to requesting their aid in dealing with non-compliant customers.

Unforeseen Consequences

Many readers will have already observed that these new measures pose a number of challenges for small businesses. The pandemic has already been disastrous for many small businesses, especially those which require proximity to customers. For such businesses, this legislation reads as yet another major threat to their livelihoods.

For many small businesses, relationships of trust are crucial. Whether it is the trust and loyalty of frequent patrons or the necessity of making that initial impression as a trust-worthy establishment, small businesses rely heavily on the interactions with customers that might be hamstrung by this legislation. For example, consider the situation of a trusted customer entering your shop without a mask – do you risk offense and ill-will by asking them to leave? Similarly, how much new business are you willing to turn away in compliance with this legislation?

In discussing the role of transport operators to their customers, the government states that they can ‘direct some to wear a face covering’. There is no requirement for transport operators or business owners to have face coverings on hand, however, and no mention of such a practice in general. However, having a number of masks available at your workplace, staff can give them to customers entering without a mask, preventing a loss of business.

The Perfect Mask

So far, we’ve skipped over one of the most important aspects of this development: are masks even effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19? 

There has been considerable debate within the scientific community on this topic. Yet, as it stands, there is no debate around whether masks are effective, only how effective they might be. 

The picture that virologists paint about masks looks something like this. COVID-19 is spread predominantly by droplets originating in the mouth, nose and throat, partly because of the distance these droplets can cover as a result of the air propelled when someone exhales or speaks. Similarly, the virus’ main entry-point into the body is the mouth, hence all the guidance about refraining from touching your face. Masks are designed as a barrier to these infectious droplets, regardless of whether they are coming from the wearer themselves or another person in close proximity to them. Therefore, masks prevent both the infected from spreading the virus and the non-infected from catching it. 

If you’d like a more comprehensive explanation, take a look at this video: 

As might be clear to you, the effectiveness of the mask depends upon the quality of the mask. Luckily, the most effective masks are fairly simple to make and as such, relatively inexpensive, made from pieces of cotton attached to string or elastic straps. Many have become interested in so-called “valved” masks which appear to be far more high-tech and therefore more secure than the regular cotton mask. 

However, there have been rising concerns about these masks, which are nevertheless still far less popular than their cheaper cotton counterparts. Of course, these concerns are more pressing in light of this new legislation, which will spur a drastic increase in the wearing of masks. 

Recently, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s decision to wear a one of these masks became a flashpoint for the debate over their effectiveness. A number of virologists penned concerned letters and articles, including Dr Bharat Pankhania of the University of Exeter Medical School, who highlighted the filtering valves on the mask, supposedly a further protection, as having the potential to exaggerate the possibility of spreading COVID-19 by creating a ‘high-velocity flow of air from the mouth … which could create a plume of infection.’ In India, where the masks are more common, the government has had to issue an official statement against their use.

So, the regular cotton mask remains the most effective which is hand since they are so much more affordable than the alternative. If you’re still in need of a mask for yourself or a number of masks for your workplace, head on over to our online shop or our eBay page to get your hands on some.

Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation: What the Pandemic Has Meant for Young People

During the pandemic, the news media has rightly focussed almost exclusively on the most vulnerable and those who have suffered directly, whether it is the survivors or those who have been unable to say goodbye to their loved ones. For the rest of us, the last few months have been simply surreal. It has been hard to articulate exactly what it is that we have all lived through – indeed, what we are still living through. This strangeness and uncertainty of the situation was heightened for young people, however, despite a lack of coverage.

Not for a number of generations has there been such a radical interruption of everyday life. Those of us who are in still in some form of education have experienced extensive changes to grading systems, teaching timetables and accommodation. Undergraduates in their final year have been forced to finish degrees at home that they have been working towards sometimes for four years. Cut off from the usual access to all of the university’s resources and required to respond to often daily changes in assessment structures, many undergraduates became justifiably despondent, feeling as if all of their previous hard work had been suddenly and radically undermined. Similarly, GCSE and A-Level students have been left at the mercy of bureaucracies as their final grades are to be decided for them without their taking the relevant exams. The same despondency reigns, students are robbed of the opportunity to outperform predictions or turn their current attainment around – in short, they are frustratingly stripped of their agency.

As many parents of will tell you, this despondency has only exaggerated the effects of being separated from friends and prohibited from enjoying the sorts of lifestyles that young Britons lead today. Expressions of this malaise dominated social media during the lockdown. One popular notion was that of ‘lockdown time’ – it was such a prevalent topic of discussion that the BBC devoted a lengthy article to the phenomenon. It refers to the strange experience of not knowing what day of the week it is, of seemingly losing whole days, or of time radically speeding up. 

So, what happens when lockdown begins to be eased? Well, young people are the most eager to get out. This continues to be a problem. The months spent in lockdown, the freedom from work, and an interest in distracting themselves from the uncertainty that has been introduced into their lives – all of these factors make young people far more likely to break the guidelines. Considering that the virus poses far less of a risk to their health, it is understandable that young Britons are a little more reckless with the guidance. However, it is important to remember their role as potential carriers of the disease. 

Balancing the need for young people to enjoy the summer with the need to contain the virus is paramount. Perhaps, rapid testing might provide a solution. Reliable rapid tests would enable young people to test frequently, ensuring that they are not infected before interacting with others. 

For more information, visit our website.

An Introduction to Viral Testing for Small Businesses

Source: Pixabay

As the pandemic has progressed, there has been growing public interest in the potentials of testing. With reliable means of detecting whether someone has or has had the virus, we might better adjust not only public policy but our own lives, which have been so abruptly interrupted. There has been endless discussion about the possibilities of immunity for those who have contracted the virus and survived. There have also been doubts about the reliability of rapid testing, which remains the most convenient form of testing for the general public – and for business owners. 

Indeed, for many small businesses, the answers to these questions will be pivotal. However, answering these questions requires at least a minimal knowledge of viral testing and there has been a pitiful lack of accessible information. As part of our campaign to empower small businesses during the pandemic, we thought it might be useful to produce this short and simple introduction to viral testing.

Let’s start with the absolute basics. A virus is parasitic, meaning it cannot survive without a host. Its host is a cell. A virus is chiefly composed of two elements: a nucleic acid molecule and a protein shell. ‘Nucleic acid’ might sound familiar to you, a distant memory from a school classroom where you were given a lecture on DNA – the ‘secret ingredient of life’. It is this element of a virus that is responsible for the replication which can make them so dangerous. 

In order for a virus to replicate, though, it must attach itself to a cell – its host. This is where the protein shell comes in. Think about all of those images of the COVID-19 virus that you will have seen on the news or in articles or on the government’s public safety posters that are now dotted all over the place. The virus has a bunch of ‘spikes’ sticking out of it, right? Well, these are part of the protein shell and they’re the virus’ way of gaining access to a cell. 

They are also what attracts the attention of the body’s immune system. When the body produces antibodies against a virus, it is these protein ‘spikes’ which they are designed to hunt out. This brings us to the first of the two major forms of COVID-19 tests: the antibody test. In an antibody test – like our rapid antibody test -, the filter paper onto which the blood-sample is placed already contains proteins extracted from the COVID-19 virus. If you have the relevant antibodies in your blood, they will react with the proteins on the paper, producing the marks that can be seen on this test from one of our customers:   

Antibody tests have come under fire in the past few months for a number of reasons. (We have a whole blog on the topic, if you’re interested.) But the main concerns revolved around the sensitivity of the tests. Firstly, it takes a while for detectable levels of antibodies to be produced, meaning that antibody tests do not give us a totally comprehensive picture of who currently has the virus. Similarly, in the other direction, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the levels of antibodies cease to be detectable and whether this has any bearing on immunity, for example. Take a look at this diagram:

Source: iSTOC

However, the picture used above is of a test taken by one of our customers, whose husband had symptoms over 60 days ago, which means that antibody testing might be reliable far beyond the limit previously assumed.

So, what is different about an antigen test? Instead of testing for antibodies which fight the virus, antigen tests are able to detect the genetic material of the virus, that nucleic acid we discussed earlier. Because this genetic material is present as soon as someone is infected, antigen tests offer a more comprehensive picture of who currently has the virus than do antibody tests. However, antigen tests cannot give us information on who has had the virus in the past, which is the added benefit of antibody tests. Such a hard limit to the testing window is reflected in the NHS’ guidance on getting one of their antigen tests:

Source: NHS

We hope that this information clears up a few misconceptions about testing and gives you the confidence to lead your business through the current challenges. For more information, and to view our range of health and safety products, check out our website

Leicester Lockdown: We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

Last Monday, Boris Johnson explained that whereas the rest of country will have opened up by July 4th, Leicester will remain locked down. This came as a surprise to many and added a sour note to the triumphal announcements of the past few weeks. It certainly came as a surprise to Leicester Mayor Peter Soulsby who took to Sky News to express scepticism regarding the government’s decision, claiming that the disproportionate rise in the number of cases is a direct result of disproportionate testing. 

In any case, what is the government’s reasoning for extending the lockdown in Leicester? Well, according to findings from Public Health England, which recently added a regional dimension to its monitoring of COVID-19 cases, Leicester saw a surge in the fortnight following June 8th, an increase of 900 cases. During this period, confirmed cases in Leicester accounted for 1 in 16 positive tests. There have been reports of school closures as well as problems with a number of workplaces in the preceding weeks – Health Secretary Matt Hancock singled out clothing factories in the area as particular hot-spots. Concerns have also been raised over the effects of local Black Lives Matter protests.

For the people of Leicester, these announcements are disturbing. Our thoughts are with them. For the rest of us, the Leicester lockdown serves as a reminder that our own individual responses to the pandemic remain important, especially those of us who run businesses. 

The Leicester lockdown also raises questions about the potential use of these measures for other areas. The reports from Public Health England which identified the rapid uptick in Leicester also registered comparable rates of activity in the West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester regions. The BBC graphed these readings

Importantly, Leicester is not the first city to be subject to what Boris Johnson referred to as the government’s “whack-a-mole strategy”. Outbreaks linked to a hospital in Weston-super-Mare, a meat-packing factory in Cleckheaton and a number of GP surgeries in London lead to similar local lockdowns.

Clearly, as the Prime Minister has said, “we are not out of the woods yet”. A few weeks ago, we compiled some of the guidance on workplace health and safety, filling in the gaps with regard to preventing against infection. Understanding the risks to your employees and how to mitigate them is now more important than ever. 

For more information and to view our range of workplace safety products, including rapid COVID-19 test kits, visit our website

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