Show you care: Put on a mask
They used to be seen only on Halloween. Now they’re recommended for all social situations. Formerly smooth-faced men can now get by with only an occasional shave.
Masks to cover the nose and mouth, whether of the extra-strength N95 variety or simply a piece of cloth, are now everyday wear for millions of people the world over.
And until recently, I thought they were designed to protect the wearer.
In my defense, it made sense to me that if I wore a mask I would be pretty protected from COVID-19.
People who work around dangerous dust or smoke wear a mask over their nose and mouth to avoid inhaling the particles. Why doesn’t a mask do the same thing to avoid the coronavirus?
N95 masks better provide that kind of protection. They snug up tightly against the nose, cheeks and chin. That’s why health care workers wear them, especially around sick or frail people. An N95 mask reduces both the inflow and the outflow of particles.
But simple cloth masks, attached to the face by elastic of some kind behind the ears, effectively limit only the outflow of air. They don’t fit tightly enough to prevent the virus from invading the nose or mouth of the wearer.
A cloth mask provides a minimal amount of protection for the wearer, of course. But that’s not what it’s designed for. Its purpose is to protect other people, particularly those within six feet of the wearer.
It’s a simple enough concept.
People who appear perfectly healthy can be carriers of the COVID-19 virus. In fact, studies show that infected people may be the most contagious two or three days before they come down with the symptoms.
In harsh terms, what that means is that if I become infected, I can pass on the disease to people I come in close proximity to for several days before I start to feel sick.
That’s how epidemics like this one spread so rapidly and fatally.
That’s why wearing masks is one of the three primary prescriptions for slowing the spread of COVID-19, along with maintaining social distancing of at least six feet from other people and washing hands with soap and water or applying sanitizer frequently.
A myth has worked its way into the American consciousness over the past couple of months: that it’s macho to go without a mask.
That’s because of what I used to believe, that a mask was for my own protection. If I wanted to tempt fate and go without a mask, that would show my courage, like a soldier without a helmet, a knight without a shield, or a wirewalker without a net.
In other words, masks were for sissies.
But they’re not. Masks are for people who care about others.
Since it’s an election year, the “to mask or not to mask” question has now gone political. Among some folks, mask-wearing is thought of as Democratic, and not-masking is considered to be Republican.
That’s false, of course. Many Democrats go without masks, and many Republicans wear them.
I’m old. What’s more, I’m missing the largest lobe of my right lung from a 2011 operation.
Whatever I can do to protect myself, in only an even marginal way, I’m going to do. So I try to wear a mask when I go out in public.
But I mainly do it because I don’t want to carelessly infect others, in case I somehow have contracted the virus. And these days, most of the people I come within a few steps of are also older than 65, so they are in the vulnerable category.
If I were to get the virus, I don’t want to spend my final days on a guilt trip wondering how many others I passed it on to.