By Pauline Kerr
As masking requirements are lifted across the country, a lot of people are feeling … well, nervous.
Two years ago, they were the folks who announced they could put up with masks, since it would be for a few weeks at most. Some went for the Wild West bandit look – a bandana worn jauntily over mouth and nose. Others improvised with winter scarves or other items of clothing including stretching turtleneck sweaters up over their lower faces until disposable masks and good cloth masks became readily available.
Some of us drew silly faces on our medical masks, while others focused on comfort, learning to crochet or use a 3D printer to make ear savers. While none of us enjoyed wearing masks, most of us acknowledged the need for them and, however grudgingly, complied with mask mandates. And they did keep one’s face warm when winter winds blew.
Wearing masks, be they medical grade or MacGyvered from coffee filters and duct tape, initially felt unnatural and awkward. Now we wonder how long it will take to get used to not wearing them.
Some of us are stating what was once unthinkable – an item once worn only by bank robbers and medical personnel has gone mainstream. A lot of us would no longer hesitate to wear a mask when we or someone in close proximity to us has a cold. It might also make sense to mask up when we are in a crowded bus or similar environment.
The fact is, wearing masks in situations like these was a given in a lot of places around the world long before COVID-19 entered the picture. Some of us have noticed we have suffered from fewer colds while masking and distancing mandates have been in effect.
Times change; customs change. The vast majority of us no longer sneeze into freshly laundered and delicately embroidered hankies. There are single-use facial tissues for that. We used to teach our children to cover their mouths with their hands when they cough; now we tell them to cough into their elbow – more sanitary. Wearing a mask when one has the sniffles makes a lot of sense.
That said, there are still individuals who are convinced there is something foreign and weird about covering one’s nose and mouth with a mask instead of barrier-free spewing of germs. These were the folks who, if they wore masks even at the height of the pandemic, probably had them under their noses rather than over them. Social norms may change but humans come with varying degrees of adaptability.
It has been noted that around the world, COVID continues to infect and kill in substantial numbers. The emergency stage of the pandemic may be over, but the disease itself is not. There was a time when masks, hand-washing and distancing were the only tools we had to control the spread of the COVID. Now we have a veritable arsenal at our disposal, beginning with vaccination. There are also medications that can minimize the impact of the infection if given early enough. In addition, a lot of people have developed a natural immunity through having had COVID.
There may come a new variant against which present vaccines and medications are ineffective. However, we still have the original tools, and most of us would not hesitate to use them.
Those who continue to scoff at using medical masks anywhere other than in medical facilities might take a look back in history to a time when hospitals were filthy places; forget about masks – doctors would routinely go from patient to patient without even washing their hands. Patients who survived surgery usually died of infection.
Then came Florence Nightingale. Her instructions for nurses dating back to 1860 read like a how-to manual on preventing the spread of COVID-19 – frequent hand-washing, improved ventilation, and above all else, keeping everything clean. Had medical masks been available, Nightingale would undoubtedly have demanded their use.
Masks may no longer be required for the general population, but it seems likely their use will continue – because they work.