A Quiet Surge & The End of Masks
As we traverse another quiet surge of coronavirus, I feel regretfully compelled to revisit the subject, as well as my soapbox, both of which I’d been intending and hoping to avoid for the past several months, as I too, am quite “over it.”
I say: “quiet surge,” because we hear very little about it these days. Why? For one, it’s old — it’s tired and stale. Covid is no longer good news for the media to make advertising money from, nor are reintroduced restrictions a favorable campaign for any politician to run on. We’ve collectively decided, much to most peoples’ rejoiceful exhalation, that “the pandemic is over;” yet colleagues and I have had almost as many cancellations due to positive tests and exposures in the past month as we had during Omicron last year. While hospitalizations and deaths are surely down, it’s worth noting that rates are higher now than they were in the summer of 2020, when there was no immunization but plenty of masking.
Adapt or Die is a cliché we can all agree on to varying degrees, but it is within that variant that discord arises. There was a time when the only baseball players who wore protective headgear were the catchers. Surely, after enough concussions and less frequent, but more dire outcomes, someone had the bright idea to suggest all hitters wear helmets, which we can assume was met with resistance by some of the more alpha athletes. In their defense, a big, clunky helmet probably felt substantially less comfortable than a simple cap, causing more than one player to offensively slump while acclimating to feeling top heavy. Nevertheless, Major League Baseball and the rest of society ultimately accepted it as most reasonable, and across evolution most players nowadays hit the ball harder and further than they ever did before, unfazed by the unsightly, additional accessory protecting their domes from near death.
There are countless such examples, as the football helmet evolved from thick leather cap to titanium helmet, to one with a mask, to increasingly more intricate masks for those subjected to the greatest contact collisions. There is no question it would be easier to see and move without the helmet or face masks, although the potential downside would be that everyone would die, if not instantly, then slow and painfully, amidst an insufferable fog of mental confusion.
Has your belly ever felt restricted by your seatbelt in the car? Have you ever been out in public on a humid, 100-degree day and felt oppressed even by your own clothing? Did you feel the need to undress and go naked? So, why throughout the pandemic have so many Americans resisted and fetishized the use of face masks to prevent a respiratory-borne pathogen while most Asian societies have accepted them as part of life, at least for the time being? It seems so simple, so obvious and minor of an inconvenience, yet we have managed to manipulate it into some mythical monster of debate, some complex question instead of what started many generations ago as an obvious, logical tool.
The internet is not a bad place. Even as a Gen-X’er who’d gladly go back to land lines and beepers if put to a vote, I genuinely think so much good has come from online. I also think with every blessing or luxury in life comes potential challenges, usually under the umbrella of discipline, discernment, and boundaries. On the internet we have access to more useful information than ever before — unfortunately equally as much bullshit — and most peoples’ bullshit detectors are not up to the task.
I’ve heard that masks don’t work, which blows my mind. For over 100 years surgeons and dentists have been wearing masks for this exact purpose. Suddenly, they don’t work?
I’ve also heard that masks cause dementia due to lack of oxygen to the brain, which would mean that every surgeon, dentist, and Asian is neurologically doomed.
I heard some self-proclaimed “naturopathic doctor” online preach the health benefits of breathing fresh air over protecting each other’s immune systems. I agree with the importance of fresh air, which still perfectly accommodates the recommendation to wear masks indoors.
I can tell you from personal experience, I once hugged a friend who found out the next day that she had Covid, but we were both wearing masks and I never tested positive. I also treated two patients in my clinic who had the same timeline and I was never infected. How can a piece of material placed in between two open holes not reduce the spread of particles from one to the other? How did Dr. Google override one of the most basic laws of middle school physics?
I understand the resistance to social distancing. For a short period of time was one thing, but everyone has an understandable tipping point of duration at which they’d rather risk illness than never socialize. I can even understand skepticism around the vaccine. Regardless of what the medical community claims, it is relatively new and experimental, (a small percentage of) people have died from it, and many more have had odd side effects that I’ve seen firsthand in clinic. This doesn’t mean I am against vaccines — my daughter has already received several and not all vaccines are created equal. But the idea that vaccines do not have potential side effects is as absurd as the idea that we are presently all victims of a bioterrorism conspiracy concocted by the government to implant tracking chips into our shoulders. I highly recommend The Vaccine Book by Dr. Robert Sears.
I’ll never understand the resistance to wearing a mask while indoors or in crowded places. You’re “over it,” I get it. We’re all over it. But if you had to choose between never seeing loved ones again, getting nine more booster shots, or basically just wearing your seatbelt when applicable, wouldn’t you choose the latter?
I understand, seatbelts are more comfortable than masks, and if you’re single the gender that you are trying to attract is not judging you based on some diagonal line across your upper torso. You wish to be seen, plus facial expressions are an important part of nonverbal communication. Of course, remove your mask as needed, dine indoors during the cold weather, and “live your life.” But try your best, by way of mindfulness, to find the proper balance between cautionary adaptation and practicality. For example, I try really hard to always recycle, even to the point that if I’m out and have space in my backpack I’ll put an empty bottle in it to properly dispose of once home. But once in a while I’m out without my backpack. I finish a bottle of water that I don’t feel like carrying around all day. Or I’m even at home, but my baby is screaming, I’m exhausted, and I just chuck a piece of plastic into the garbage. Part of me feels guilty, but in the moment that part is easily drowned out by the part of me that’s just “over it.” But most of the time, in spite of it being an inconvenient societal standard that wasn’t implemented until my own adolescence, I do my best. Maybe it isn’t such a coincidence that mask-wearing is less ubiquitous within the parts of the population that are generally more skeptical about global warming.
By all means, see everyone you wish when you wish. But wear a mask whenever indicated and/or practical. It doesn’t mean you’re a coward. You’re just one of the first baseball players with a helmet on. Do your best.