Buddy, Can You Spare a Mask?

I’m currently renovating a bathroom in my house, the second time in a year I’ve tackled a bathroom renovation. I’m either ambitious or a slow learner. But for now let’s call it the pragmatic use of acquired skills and available time. Why pay someone to do what you can do if the task is worthwhile?

Step one in renovation (after confirming permit requirements) is demolition of the old bathroom. Demolition is the process of taking what used to be in your everyday life out of your life forever, using reciprocating saws, hammers pry bars and a lot of sweat equity. With the right mindset this can be a fun workout, like a reverse jigsaw puzzle with power tools. This is pure bliss when things are going right. But for things to go right you need to take a few precautions along the way. Things like turning off water supplies and circuit breakers for areas that you’re working on. Using drop cloths to protect areas not being demolished. And wear safety equipment.

And that brings me to the strange way that coronavirus in China disrupted my bathroom renovation in New Hampshire. It seems the world has gone mad, and something as mundane as a dust mask for protecting your lungs from fiberglass dust have disappeared from the shelves of box stores and local hardware stores alike. Construction dust masks don’t even filter out viruses; viruses are too small and mock these dust masks as they fly into your lungs. That’s why they call them “dust” masks. But tell that to the zealous hoarders of all masks, sure that the apocalypse has arrived, snapping up shopping carts full of dust masks not matter what they’re rated for. On second thought, don’t bother, they’re not listening anyway. If you’re buying that many masks you’re uniquely focused on anything but reason.

The quest ultimately ended successfully even as it delayed my start time. I did find a box of dust masks rated for general construction dust, not optimal but good enough for the task at hand. With a mask and safety glasses affixed to my face I cut the fiberglass bathtub into pieces and removed all the debris to the dumpster bag outside. Having done this before I knew the most efficient process and completed my demolition in time to clean up and go to dinner with friends. As a bonus I had an ice breaker story about the lingering elastic marks on my face and a tale of misguided mask hoarders. Coronavirus surely requires diligence, public awareness and precaution, but not dust masks. Could you leave a few for the rest of us? I mean, this bathroom isn’t renovating itself?

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