To mask or not to mask?


It seems to me that, “To mask, or not to mask, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the inconveniences and difficulties of covering one’s features with a wisp of cloth or to resist against the outpourings of medical and political declarations — and by opposing them possibly expose myself and others to the pestilence Corona-19.”

OK, so Shakespeare I’m not — but somehow this parody of Hamlet’s famed soliloquy (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1) appears appropriate. I think my interest in the question of using or not using a face mask got aroused recently when I visited one of those “big box” stores. I guesstimated that about half of the customers weren’t wearing face masks — although all employees except one were so equipped. Anyway, just to satisfy my curiosity I conducted my own unofficial and unscientific survey by stopping and asking every unmasked customer I could why they weren’t wearing a mask.

The assortment of subjects of this survey included: family groups with children ranging from pre-school to teenagers; older gray or white-haired women; couples in their 30s or so; solo adults in their 40s or 50s; but, curiously, no older men — they all wore masks. Anyway, I figured this was a fairly good sampling.

The answers kinda fell into groups or categories including:

“I don’t like the feel of a mask on my face. It makes me feel choked up.”

“I have difficulty breathing through a mask.”

“Wearing a mask steams up my glasses so I can’t see.”

“I have one but just don’t use it unless I have to so I can get into some place like a doctor’s office.”

“I don’t believe masks make any difference.”

“My kids are too young to get the virus and people my age don’t get it either, so why bother.”

And finally — now get this — “This virus crisis is all just a big political hoax designed to give one party an advantage in the upcoming election. It’s no worse than the flu or other widespread diseases in the past and we didn’t wear masks then.”

This was interesting, but I decided to dig a bit deeper to see what instructions or guidance might be available in some sort of “official” documentation. Sure enough I stumbled across just such a publication that explained how the virus is spread, what the symptoms are, treatments for the degrees of complication — and a section on face masks. These extracts include the original emphasis.

“You SHOULD wear a face mask if you are a health worker providing close personal care for clients [or] if you have symptoms of COVID-19. A professional tight-fitting respirator (such as the N95 mask) can protect health care workers. Light weight disposable surgical masks will not. You SHOULD NOT wear a face mask to protect yourself from COVID-19 in public places. The general public IS NOT ADVISED to use face masks for protection. [The claim that] a face mask will protect you from COVID-19 is a myth.”

How about them apples?

Well, now what? As the virus is flaring up in several places, orders have been issued that everyone in the state or city must wear a mask — I’m not sure how this might be enforced or what penalties might be imposed for violation. In the meantime, some high-ranking political figures have suggested wearing a mask is a “good” thing and do so as an example, but on the other hand others refuse and appear in public venues without a mask.

Medical experts generally insist masks can help lessen the spread of the virus, but they themselves may well appear in public without a mask. Then too, there are scenes on TV showing of large groups of people enjoying themselves in closely packed bars, beaches and other party venues — all without masks. Some churches are inviting members to attend services without wearing a mask.

Sure is a Hamlet-like dilemma, isn’t it?

As for us, we’re both in “high risk” categories for age and medical conditions, so we figure we won’t tempt fate. Nope, our eldest daughter has made us an assortment of colorful masks to choose from so we can vary our appearance on those rare occasions when we venture out. Whether wearing a mask provides effective protection against the virus or not, we kinda figure it couldn’t do any harm.

One final comment. I was in a jewelry store recently when the lady behind the counter commented, “It used to be that when someone came in wearing a mask, we were uneasy. Now we’re uneasy if someone comes in without wearing one.”

It’s hard to believe things could have changed that much in so short a time. At least that’s how it seems to me.

Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a regular contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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