Mask On, Mask Off
With vaccinations ramping up in the U.S. and infection rates dropping — even in cities hit hardest by COVID-19 — the Centers for Disease Control has relaxed their mask mandates for those who’ve received the jab. But not every business and local government, or their coronavirus-wary citizens, are eager to give up the face coverings that have been credited with saving thousands of lives.
Earlier in 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press and said, “We’ve had practically a nonexistent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kinds of public health things that were directed predominantly against COVID-19.”
Taking the observation further, the nation’s COVID guru hypothesized that “people might actually elect to wear masks” after the imminent threat of the killer bug fades to protect themselves from annoying colds and the flu.
But after 15-plus months of covering up, it’s not so outlandish to wonder what America’s latest new normal will be — and when we’ll get there.
Previous pandemics had utilized face coverings to successfully slow the spread of disease — sinister-looking and useless 17th century plague masks aside. Wu Lien-teh, a University of Cambridge-educated Chinese doctor, championed the use of the “prophylactic apparatus” to ward off the Manchurian pneumonic plague that killed about 60,000 people between 1910 and 1911.
But that death toll was nothing compared to the Spanish flu which socked the globe in 1918 and may have stolen as many as 50 million lives — and saw people frantically covering up with masks, scarves and veils in an effort to stop the scourge. Masks also came out in many nations during the deadly SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.
But as each of those crises came to a close, masks gradually disappeared — save for some Asian countries where it became good manners to keep your germs to yourself. With experts claiming a cough can produce as many as 3,000 droplets potentially containing the life-threatening novel coronavirus, it’s easy to understand why many public officials rallied around the mask — even as the politicization around them grew. One health professional went as far as to say mask-wearing could spell the difference between a rampaging pandemic and a disease that simply peters out.
But as COVID fatigue sets in, and vaccinations seem to be doing their job, some people have grown restless — even if they never bothered to cover up themselves in the first place.
However, among those who did, not everyone is eager to fling their mask to the wind — including those who are immunocompromised, caregivers for the vulnerable and those just dead set on playing it safe for a little while longer.
A recent survey from Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center polled more than 2,000 people and found a whopping 72 percent said they’d keep their masks on in certain situations. About 90 percent said they’d keep up their frequent hand-washing; we thank you for that — and that remaining 10 percent shouldn’t be expecting an invite to our barbecue.
In an online Q&A, Shannon O’Neill, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said, “It makes a lot of sense that people are feeling anxious and unsettled right now. Just when we were finally adjusting to a new normal and some predictability and flow, the world is preparing to change all over again. Future uncertainty and a sense of not knowing what to expect can fuel anticipatory anxiety.”
With variants lurking in viral hotspots and travel kicking up, there’s no telling what the coming months will bring as far as mask-wearing goes. Although the momentum seems to be swinging toward personal choice — barring yet another devastating wave of infections. As one Twitter user quipped, “MFs at work keep asking me why I’m still wearing a mask if I’m vaccinated. Have you ever considered that I’m mysterious and interesting and sexy?”
Anyone who has seen the Penthouse video featuring Gianna Dior along with a vast collection of other Pets (and one cat) in a mask-wearing public service announcement will completely understand the mysterious and sexy aspects for a few fortunate souls. Anyone who has not, can do so now, because we try to helpful and interesting — even if we cannot all be mysterious and sexy.
“Who said life is fair? Where is that written?” (That would be a quote from the world’s greatest movie, btw.)