The Mask. A symbol of the ever widening chasm between those who use fact-based common sense and those who do not wish to be confused by the facts. A political flash point that can result in violent confrontations. To some a symbol of our responsibility to our fellow citizens as members of a community. To others a symbol of government oppression and the violation of individual rights. By all measures the mask divide is emblematic of our cultural divide. But to me it is simply a sign of common sense.
This winter we made the decision to risk our annual two month’s long trip to New England where we skied daily with friends we have made at the mountain over the years. Those who have never experienced the sheer joy of skiing perhaps cannot imagine the disappointment we endured last winter when, not yet vaccinated, we reluctantly opted out. It wasn’t just the skiing we missed, but also the company of old friends and the beauty of New England, its mountains and architecture so different from the busy modernistic urban environment in which we now reside.
Surrounded by a fairyland of ice encrusted forest whose trees glittered like fantastical giant diamond brooches, we flew through fresh clean air down the flanks of beauteous mountains. The only sounds were the rush of wind past our helmets, the scritch of skis against icy snow and an occasional whoop of enthusiasm from one of our compatriots. As if that weren’t joyful enough, we rode the lifts with our friends without fear, knowing even if one of them carried the virus, the risk of any getting into our respiratory tracts was practically nil. While some of them opted to hazard visits to the bar apres ski, we stuck with outdoor group lunches when weather permitted. When not skiing we limited our exposure to indoor public places to the sparsely occupied locker area where we put on our boots and early Sunday morning forays to the uncrowded supermarket. We opted out of skiing on weekends and holidays, skiing fewer days than we might have, but feeling it was worth the sacrifice. The rest of the time we were ensconced in splendid isolation in our cozy rented flat.
It was the first time in two years we felt fully alive and without anxiety.
As the days went on, though, we were aware that people were becoming increasingly cavalier about their risk of disease. They were returning to restaurant dining and generally going maskless indoors. It’s understandable that people are at the ends of their ropes with the restrictions. So are we. We have not dined out nor attended a theater or museum in two years. But we intend to adhere to these self imposed restrictions as long as common sense and reality dictate.
An interesting thing happened during these many months that we spent outside of crowded indoor places and wearing masks when we could not avoid being indoors with others. We got used to the idea of wearing them. We don’t love wearing them, but unlike some right wing wing nuts, we do not remotely feel like we are being rounded up, put on cattle cars and transported to the gas chambers when we put them on. As I have mentioned in past blogs, when individual rights are exercised to the detriment of fellow citizens, they are a form of tyranny, a form of anarchy and surely an indication of a selfish, if not antisocial, nature.
Like most people, what we miss most is being together with friends and relatives in our respective homes and the pleasure of dining out occasionally. What we don’t miss is crowded indoor gatherings with attendees spewing their germ infested breath while making dull small talk and persisting in handshaking despite the health risks this antiquated custom carries. We stopped going to movie theaters years ago when we realized streaming services provide just about all the movies we wish to see. We can view a dozen for the same price as two tickets to a theater. In addition, we are not subjected to noisy moviegoers and an hour of ads and trailers before the movie plays. The lack of a pause button in theaters is also inconvenient for viewers like us who don’t have the bladder capacity of 20-somethings. We have always enjoyed live theater, but have seen enough of it to last us for at least a while, and we have no need for loud, boisterous concerts or the club scene. We have never enjoyed air travel, limiting it mostly to trips abroad which, as enriching as they are, are getting less safe as the world sinks into ever more conflict and turmoil. The unfriendly skies do not beckon.
Some years ago, when we first started seeing film clips of people in Asia walking around wearing masks, we didn’t quite understand the rationale. But now we do. Over the past half dozen years during which we have made our annual ski trip, two of them were ruined when, despite our flu shots, we contracted severe flu-like illnesses. But during the whole time since we began wearing masks, we have had nary a sniffle from any respiratory illness. That, in itself, is worth the inconvenience of masking as far as we are concerned.
Is it likely we will eventually resume a more carefree and sociable existence once the pandemic is truly ended? Quite likely. But there’s no sense even considering that now. People are declaring the pandemic over. It’s not. By denying this, they are probably prolonging it. In fact, though case numbers are dropping at the moment, CDC statistics out this week show that even the “fully vaccinated” (two shots, therefore not actually fully vaccinated) and those boosted experienced a huge uptick in serious infections and deaths during this Omicron phase as compared with much lower incidence of active disease during Delta. Meanwhile the efficacy of boosters seems to drop off after four months– which is exactly where we happen to be.
History shows that whenever people throw caution to the winds, a new surge soon follows. Let’s hope that’s not the case with the current easing of restrictions, but we’re not betting on it. What? Me worry? You betcha.
Given the wishy-washy nature of both public and government attitudes about this very grave illness, it’s entirely possible that we will continue to limit our involvement in optional indoor events for some time. We will, perhaps permanently, continue to wear masks in public.
If that looks odd to people, we are sorry, but we hope when someone asks the question, “Who was that masked man, anyway?” maybe some folks will say, “Who knows? But he sure must be one smart hombre.”