When I was first out of college I worked in construction to support my coaching habit. By habit I meant I was trying to make a living coaching crew, but rowing at the time wasn’t a particularly lucrative field (but still the best job I’ve ever had). Working on construction sites was the first time I wore a mask in public, not counting Halloween, and it felt perfectly normal to me to be wearing a mask that kept the nasty stuff floating in the air from entering my lungs. But I remember watching a demo crew take down a wall using a power cutter, which looks like a chain saw with a giant spinning wheel that could take your arm off in one second. Those guys attacked that cinder block wall and had it down in ten minutes and carted away in another ten. Time is money, and they hustled. Not one of those guys was wearing a dust mask, and only the guy cutting the wall was wearing safety glasses. The clouds of dust kicked up by that power cutter were impressive, and I remember shaking my head at the stupidity of not protecting your lungs from the assault.
Fast forward to the current COVID-19 pandemic we’re all living through. I’m on my third mask, and it seems the third time is the charm in comfort level achieved. The first time I wore a mask was to the market, where I’d grown uncomfortable with the casual disregard for social distancing by some of the unmasked, unconcerned patrons. It felt strange to be wearing it, but I quickly learned that I was more uncomfortable not wearing it. I bumped into an old friend in the market one day last week, me in a mask, he unmasked, and I mumbled something about wearing it because I’d promised my wife I’d wear it… but a week later I’m less inclined to make some silly excuse for having it on. Just as that dust mask protected my lungs from construction dust on that job site years ago, this cloth mask offers a small measure of protection from whatever respiratory droplets you’re exhaling while generously reciprocating and keeping my own respiratory droplets safely captured in my mask. Seems logical to me.
But then I see the videos of the Constitution bangers crowding into a coffee shop in Colorado or protesting in close quarters with firearms draped across their backs, all of them unmasked, and I can’t help thinking about the geniuses cutting that wall down with no regard for their health. At least those guys weren’t infecting their parents and grandparents with that construction dust. We’re living in an experiment in Social Darwinism, coupled with epic narcissistic selfishness. There’s no doubt the United States messed this one up in not having a better pandemic response preparation, in not having enough testing available to support the population, and in not having enough inventory in ventilators and Personal Protective Equipment… like masks. But collectively we own our behavior now, in this current reality, and not enough people are stepping up. The sooner we get beyond the current crisis the sooner the economy will rebound, so man up and do your part.
At some point the world will return to normal, people will know whether they have or have had COVID-19, and the wearing of a mask in public may seem unnecessary again. But I don’t believe it will ever again seem strange to see someone wearing one at the airport or walking through the train station. We’ve been collectively educated through adversity, and masks are the new normal. For those who choose to walk around without them, I marvel at the disregard. The collective sacrifice of millions compromised by a percentage of indignant outliers. But that’s the world we find ourselves in now, hoping for herd immunity and shrugging at the tens of thousands of deaths as if it were a conspiracy to infringe on your rights. Simply getting over yourself and wearing a mask, washing your hands and maintaining appropriate social distancing doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice. I view it as my overall regard for the well-being of others to wear a mask and practice social distancing, and I appreciate yours.