Mask On


It’s Time to Wear a Mask Again, Health Experts Say (New York Times via Yahoo! News)

During my final years in Toledo, I would occasionally see people wearing face masks at stores like Meijer and Kroger, especially during the winter. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone wearing face masks outside of hospitals and doctors’ offices before then, but I was enough of a Japanophile to know that wearing a mask when one is worried about spreading illness is far more common in Eastern countries than it is here. One of my students during my first semester teaching in Richland Center wore a mask to class for about two straight weeks, and while that was remarkable for it being the first time I’d ever had a student do that in all my years of teaching, I didn’t think anything more of it.

If anything, it got me to thinking about why Americans weren’t masking up during cold and flu season as much as people in other countries did. It reminded me of when those wet wipes for shopping carts started appearing all over the place in the nineties, because when I first saw them, they felt like something put there by germophobes who were overreacting to a few noisy customers’ complaints. In the two weeks that followed, though, I found myself looking more closely at what other shoppers did with their hands while they were pushing those grocery carts around, and by the end of those two weeks, I was using those wet wipes every time I picked out a shopping cart, and I haven’t stopped doing it since. I may not be able to stop other people from being disgusting, but that doesn’t mean I have to expose myself to more of their germs than I can help.

I don’t think I ever got to the point of pricing out masks back then, though. Not only did it feel like trying to wear masks in public would end up being more of a hassle than it was worth, but with all the news stories about facial recognition technology going around at that time, I was worried about getting in trouble with the law, since masking up could be seen as an attempt to thwart those technologies. I didn’t think much about it after a while because I didn’t feel a need to keep thinking about it, but then 2020 happened and everything got turned on its ear.

For about the first eighteen months of the pandemic, I only ventured out of my apartment when it was absolutely necessary to do so, and given how much of my shopping I do online, that wasn’t very often. I always wore a mask whenever I went out, of course, and I was curious to see if me not needing to put on makeup for an extended period of time would do anything to help my rosacea. It didn’t seem to matter that much, and since I’d already ruled out spicy foods as a potential cause, that means it’s likely that my rosacea is almost entirely stress-induced. Because I was wearing gaiters around my face and neck, though, I was able to stop using makeup entirely, and as much as I miss some of the rituals of putting on makeup, the hassle just isn’t worth it to me any longer. Throwing on a gaiter before going to teach in the mornings is just a lot simpler, and I’ve collected enough gaiters now that I can use them to express my mood a lot better than I ever could with makeup. (I also kind of stunk when it came to putting on makeup, to be honest.)

When I started teaching in-person here in Platteville this past September, though, only about three or four other people on campus were wearing masks, and I don’t think I saw a single mask on campus after the end of October. Because I have a number of factors that put me at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, I kept masking up, and I’m glad that no one on campus had any issues with that. (One of my biggest worries about this past election cycle was that if Republicans had retaken the governorship here in Wisconsin, they might have passed laws banning mask-wearing in public spaces.) Although mask-wearing came up in some of my classes this past semester, we never got an opportunity to discuss it in-depth, so I can’t say for certain how my students decided on their own mask-wearing behaviors. Given the number of articles I’ve read lately about experts advising a return to mask-wearing this winter, and the comments by non-medical professionals about their plans for dealing with the “tripledemic” as it’s being called, it sure seems like peer pressure is playing a huge part in many people’s decisions.

Given how sick I got at the start of this autumn, I’m probably going to cling to my masks for dear life now. I don’t anticipate this being a problem at work, but I’m starting to fear that as the months drag on, I won’t be allowed in some public spaces if I’m wearing a mask, or at least that I’m going to have to start dealing with verbal harassment and abuse for continuing to mask up, even while we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. I never had an opportunity to explore Platteville when I first moved here, and I’ll probably be staying in my apartment as much as possible over break to work on things (and avoid the cold weather), but I definitely want to check out more of the town eventually. Whether or not I’ll be welcome to do so without taking my mask off, though, remains an unanswered question, and one whose answer I’m not feeling particularly hopeful about receiving.

Even as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise again, and even with the new and dire public health threats popping up over the past few weeks, many people just want to pretend that there are no serious public health risks any longer, if they even believed that we were in a pandemic in the first place. I can’t stop them from thinking what they want to think, but I can damn sure do everything in my power to avoid them and the germs they’re spreading. If that makes me persona non grata in some places, it won’t be the first time I’ve had to deal with that, and I’d rather stay away from thoughtless people than sacrifice my life in service of their delusions and lies.

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