By DOMINIQUE PAUL NOTH
I’m starting to think that the biggest needs in this country are for online courses, video games and TV shows devoted to mask etiquette and efficacy.
One thing that brought out that feeling was all the cable news interviews with people who are on the angel side of wearing masks, pointedly criticizing those people trying to make it an issue of constitutional rights to refuse, which I have never understood.
But look closer at these truly loving parents worrying about their children going back to school. Watch the extensive videos of food workers lamenting a company’s lack of covid-19 protections on the job. Peek at concerned teenagers seeking to encourage their colleagues to wear masks – or urging their schools to go to staggered dismissal times to halt that crowding in the hallways when the bell rings.
A worrisome number of those thoughtful interviewees are leaving their noses exposed while they keep a mask around their mouths.
That, of course, defeats most of the purpose of mask wearing. Unless it covers both mouth and nostrils, and not haphazardly, it’s hardly fulfilling the medical concern. My friends have started wearing plastic lids – those see-through face and eye coverings -- because of all the people at hospitals or grocery stores, as well as on the street, pulling their masks down to chatter or just to move from counter to counter. The face shields are a needed form of protection against these people, even if it makes them look like government agents pursuing “E.T.”
In the early days of the AIDS crisis, as a journalist and editor in arts and entertainment, I was collecting a lot of names of important culture figures who were dying of the disease. I had even gone to Marquette with a number of them and knew about others from covering theater and films. There were friends among them whose families became fearful of my inquiries.
AIDS was a disease stigma attached to being homosexual in those Ronald Reagan years and there was a natural anxiety among relatives (not to mention editors) of even suggesting that AIDS was a cause of death in a story. I understood the concern. But then AIDS moved strongly into the heterosexual community and blood transfusion victims. That and social attitudes about homosexuality began to change. Suddenly we could start reporting the numbers.
I never expected social stigma to attach to a disease again, particularly not a pandemic. Yet here we are. That’s what seems to have happened partly thanks to Trump’s confusing messages and people’s ridiculous association of mask etiquette with politics. I would have thought it was natural to expect a higher number of death from an assisted living facility (don’t they naturally have a higher number of deaths?) or from prisons or from food processors and similar facilities that crowd workers close for profit as well as efficiency.
The difficulty is that there will always be people who move through the virus with minor symptoms or none at all – and maybe they will tell tales to their grandchildren about how hard and brave they were to survive or how Nervous Nelly the rest of the country was. The world went on after 1918, they seem to be saying, though 50 million died – they’re just being hardy like that.
They clearly don’t understand the pandemic, nor the requirement on all of us to look out for the other guy. Mississippi recently went into conniptions when more than 20% of those tested for covid-19 came back positive, but while that’s a frighteningly high number it also indicates that a majority of people won’t feel affected – well, at least for years since there is some evidence of lingering harm in the asymptomatic.
Kansas offered hard proof when several counties followed the mask mandate and did far better in slowing covid growth than the counties that didn’t. Evidence just keeps growing despite the naysayers.
The doubters are sort of like the GI who came out of D-Day without a scratch boasting that the invasion was no more dangerous than a rowboat in the park. I’ve never met a GI who felt like that. They just count themselves lucky. That’s how everyone should feel moving through the pandemic.
The failure of the federal government in handling testing and when and what to open up remain big worries. No question the size of Trump’s incompetence has added to the fears of many. So does the experts’ admission of needing more facts even as they are learning.
How long does the aerosol side of covid-19 linger in the air aside from the more direct exchange of coughing and breathing? Will the young’s ability to survive a bout of the virus include lingering health problems? How huge – apparently very huge – is the role of physical distancing combined with mask wearing? How does natural childhood romping affect teachers, parents and fellow students? We simply don’t know enough – yet. These promises about an imminent(!) vaccine have made us careless, since there are some realistic suggestions that it may only be partially effective and will be a long time coming.
So there’s something to be said for online classes. There’s also a lot to be said for more companies admitting when they have heavy loads of positive cases tied to their business purposes (food processing, grocery shopping, guarding inmates, helping with elderly care).
I do wonder if some people’s willingness to skip the mask mandates or treat masks as a political issue stem from businesses being so cautious about letting people in their communities know what they are going through. Because these people go back to their homes in these communities, or have children attending school with their neighbors. And many a truck leaves a food processor or a prison as part of a far-reaching transportation route.
Wouldn’t we all behave better during a pandemic if we knew the real cost?
There’s a strong case to be made for more openness as well as mask etiquette in our struggling nation.