On Masks


So, among everything else, 2020 has become The Year We All Wear Masks.
Or it should be that, but an awful lot of people are proving wildly resistant to the idea, on various bases. There are the always-entertaining libertarian types who are loath to follow any governmental guideline, no matter how wise or just or sensible, because it’s from the government. There are the fact-challenged skeptics who refuse to believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, or they accept that it’s real but overblown, or they simply believe themselves to be relatively bullet-proof and take a “Let’s just roll the dice!” attitude, without considering that with a disease like this, you’re not just rolling your dice but the dice of people around you, some of whom are likely loved-ones.
As for me? Well, I’ve largely been fine with wearing the mask, though I honestly can’t say I would have adopted the mask as quickly and readily as I did had my job at The Store not made them a requirement (which they did, in turn, based on an executive order by Governor Cuomo). I like to think that I would have heeded the strong recommendations from the CDC and other officials, but I have my pig-headed moments too, so maybe I wouldn’t have been as wise on this as I would like to imagine. Luckily for me, I’m not going to find out.
I never liked Halloween costumes that involved masks when I was a kid, and the first day I had to wear one at work, I had similar difficulty. It took a couple of days for me to figure out the ins-and-outs of the masks, which started out as the disposable paper ones. My glasses were a problem, of course! I realized that if I kept moving, the force air circulation would keep my glasses from fogging up. As soon as I stopped, though, then I’d fog up instantly. This also happened with the washable and reusable masks my company soon provided. I started carrying my glasses case with me, because I could just take the glasses off when I was working on something close, like doing a repair on a piece of equipment or…writing.
The bigger problem I had with those masks was that the elastic cords and bands that went around my ears made them ache something awful. I could wear the mask for about an hour before I had to take it off to give my poor ears a break. There are workarounds for this, of course, but right about this time an online friend named Zace Myers, who is an artisanal clothing maker in Ohio who makes, among other things, really amazing bib overalls (and I am years overdue in blogging about his overalls!), decided to apply his skills to mask design. After a couple trials and refinements, he settled on the design I’m wearing in the photo above.
The elastic bands go around the head, and not the ears, which is the main thing! And the brass nose-piece is great because you can easily bend it to properly shape your particular nose. The upshot is that now my glasses never fog up! There is a small tradeoff here: the mask does push my glasses up on my face just slightly, so they’re a tiny bit north of where I usually position them. In most cases that wouldn’t be a problem, but my glasses are transition lenses, so the mask pushing them up results in the glasses not quite lining up with where I best look through them. This is not a big deal, just a tiny, minor thing. My poor ear cartilage not feeling like it’s on fire is the major thing. (Here’s where to buy them, if you’re so inclined!)
As for breathing, I find that after wearing masks for most of the day, every day I’m at work, I’m actually getting used to them. The extra heat inside them doesn’t faze me much (and I might even like that aspect come winter, if we’re still masking as I assume we will be), and I have zero difficulty breathing in them. The act of breathing feels slightly different, obviously, and I think that a lot of people are so used to completely unencumbered breathing that they assume difficulty where there is none. I know that my pulse-oxygen levels have not suffered one bit from wearing the mask, and in truth I am at the point where I even forget I have it on.
I see some snarking online here and there about masks, and one that especially irritates me is “You don’t have to wear one when you’re driving by yourself, Sheeple!” I’ve responded several times, with varying degrees of politeness (I was, I’ll admit, not at all polite in responding to some MAGA-Republican running for Congress someplace), that if I’m making multiple stops I don’t want to be putting on the mask, taking it off again, putting it on again, taking it off again, lather rinse repeat, everywhere I go. What I don’t get is people who rip the mask off the second they exit a place, whether it’s a store or whatever, and make this show of gasping for air. Come on, folks. Let’s get a grip.
Well, this has gone on long enough, I guess. Mainly my take on masks boils down to: I wasn’t thrilled to have to do it, but now that I do, well…could be worse. It’s an easy thing to do, it’s not at all a major imposition on my life, and it’s a perfectly valid means of helping to protect others. This last point is what gets me about all this: The resistance to mask-wearing has really provided a fascinatingly specific case study–not that we needed yet another one, but here we are–in the ever-depressingly American resistance to thinking in terms of collective benefit. Our centuries of mythology about “rugged individualism” is either going to be set aside and soon, or it’s going to lead us to erasing ourselves from the march of human history. I’ve believed this for years. I just never thought that something like “Wear masks for a while, or millions will die” would be the thing that would prove it.
Wear your masks, people.
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3 Responses to On Masks

  1. fillyjonk says:

    I don't LOVE them, but I wear them. I have had a little prior experience – every time I worked with soil, especially soil from areas grazed decades back (very tiny but real chance of there being anthrax bacilli) and also to avoid allergies from the molds. These were usually N95s, or the home-center version of those. I have a few left hanging around that I might just hang on to for teaching however-many weeks of labs I get to teach this fall before we have to abandon campus. (I presume we will; we are a largely-commuter school with people who work all over the place, and a smaller subset of traditional students who will do the partying and socializing traditional students do).

    I have some cloth ones (including some with cute prints) that I can wear in situations where I have a better hope of distancing myself.

    I will say one thing about wearing a mask: it keeps me very conscious that there is a pandemic on, and kicks my hypervigilance into high gear, which is probably good for my continued survival, though a trip to the grocery store pretty much wipes me out emotionally for the rest of the day.

  2. Roger Owen Green says:

    I don't love them either. But the greater good and all that.

    The real problem is my big head. Some handmade ones that my wife bought at a farmer's market were too small for me. (And were made by SMOKERS, so we had to wash them before wearing them.)

  3. Annehueser says:

    I don't love them either but wear them when inside places that are not my home. If people are wearing them in situations where I wouldn't, (outdoors at the large park or in their cars alone) I don't judge them as I don't know their situations. I have sensory issues so wearing them is difficult for me so I do tend to take them off once I am outside but I don't do it so as to attract attention.

    I find it easier to bear wearing them if I run a litany of loving others in the back of my mind while I do it. It is the most public Christian loving act I am doing and thus the bulk of my witness currently.

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