At 33 years old Dearbhla Crosse has spent the last three months cocooning as a result of Multiple Sclerosis. Here she reflects on the wearing (and not wearing) of masks in public
Venturing into Dublin city centre after cocooning for three months is an uncomfortable onslaught to my hermetic life. I have had so little contact with the outside world that being thrust into throngs of people means I now have to relearn how to be a semi-social human again.
Masks have become the latest Haut Covid Couture and the city is now awash with pretty, patterned cloth masks. But why look cute when you can wear a medical grade N95 Bane mask, which engulfs your entire face? Since Covid is a death knell for dating, looking like Darth Vader’s love child is sure to bring all the boys to the yard. On the plus side, I can eat all the garlic I want without assaulting anyone’s sense, except perhaps my own.
It gives new gravitas to the expression avoiding people like the plague and I spent most of my time nervously darting on and off footpaths
Unlike in March when I was treated like a social pariah for wearing a mask, I received solidarity nods from fellow masked crusaders. I felt particularly smug when a maskless man sneezed at the top of Grafton Street, his haphazard attempt at mitigating the snotty explosion failing as his hands were cemented in his pockets. It gives new gravitas to the expression avoiding people like the plague and I spent most of my time nervously darting on and off footpaths as people ploughed through me like the national championships.
Why you should care about me
As this pandemic has primarily destroyed what Dave McWilliams calls, the ‘craic’ economy, pubs, theatres, music venues — basically anywhere people go to enjoy themselves — remain closed. The streets are now adorned with bright yellow Covid-19 social distance stickers. People queuing outside shops and hand sanitizer stations are now commonplace. Albeit comforting, it is still inconsistent.
It was disconcerting passing a few barbers, as part of an industry campaigning for weeks to open a phase early, with customers sat next to each other not wearing masks. I passed delis and restaurants where employees were serving and preparing food sans masks. Presuming these people have respiratory systems, masks seem fairly essential, unless the aim is to serve up à la Covid.
It is disturbing that as someone with an underlying health condition, I need to explain why you should care about me
People are being asked to wear masks to protect others. Arguments like “the majority of people are healthy so if you have underlying health conditions then stay indoors” display a callous disregard for your fellow citizens. Covid-19 affects people at random so the notion that most will just recover in a few weeks or that herd immunity can suppress it is conjecture. Viruses can hide in our systems forever and can flare up at any time. You may be lucky enough to be healthy but why risk it? Many healthy people have been extremely sick, with recovery taking months. It is disturbing that as someone with an underlying health condition, I need to explain why you should care about me. Why you should care about older people. In choosing not to wear a mask, you are indicating that my life doesn’t matter.
Masks are scientifically proven to suppress transmission and since nearly 40% of cases are asymptomatic, wearing one prevents a carrier unknowingly spreading the virus. Unless you are medically unable to wear one, deciding not to because it’s uncomfortable is entitled nonsense. You know what else is uncomfortable? Clothes. But we still wear them in public.
People take precautionary measures every day when they wear seatbelts, life jackets and helmets. The government isn’t mandating that you wear cockle-shaped nipple covers and dress up as a merman on your weekly shop. Perspective is key. If health care workers can wear a mask all day, in a hazmat suit, while trying to save someone’s life, you can wear a mask. It seems hypocritical to cheer for healthcare workers at the same time as refusing to take precautions to ease their burden.
Worryingly across the pond, advice seems to have remained at ‘Stay Alert’ as if the British public are off deer stalking and not playing whack-a-mole with a virus.
Initially, experts believed the virus was transmitted by people touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their face and they avoided advising the public to wear masks. Toilet paper panic buying shows that when frightened, we are irrational. Mask hoarding would have left medics in a dire situation where PPE was already in scant supply.
They now know that it is spread primarily through respiratory particles, which are emitted when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings or even talks. Wearing a mask blocks these microscopic droplets. As scientific understanding of the virus grows, so too does public health advice. Unless you are Trump or Bolsonaro, both of whom wilfully ignore scientific advice. Worryingly across the pond, advice seems to have remained at ‘Stay Alert’ as if the British public are off deer stalking and not playing whack-a-mole with a virus.
One of the many casualties of this pandemic has been the truth. People want information that proves their own opinions, even if factually incorrect. The consequences of the anti-mask movement worldwide have been catastrophic. Conspiracists have taken advantage of inconsistent advice and Facebook is inundated with unqualified epidemiologists.
Despite the easing of lockdown measures, it is still a ‘new normal’ within which those of us with underlying health conditions can’t fully participate.
It can be difficult to know which sources to trust. On the one hand world-renowned infectious disease experts tell us that wearing masks will save lives. On the other, your mate Billy with the scientific prowess of a pigeon has written that the virus is a hoax and governments are using it to spy on us through 5G. It’s a tough call but wearing a mask is not the equivalent of digital espionage. It does not mean we are sleepwalking into a dystopian surveillance state. And no, masks do not impede your oxygen intake. If they do, you should probably see a doctor. Wearing a mask DOES mean that we are creating a barrier to prevent transmission so we can see loved ones without putting them at risk. In refusing to wear a mask, you are not hurting the government. You harm those around you.
Despite the easing of lockdown measures, it is still a ‘new normal’ within which those of us with underlying health conditions can’t fully participate. I still can’t go out to restaurants, have people to stay or go on fun weekends away with anyone outside my bubble. I still feel the risk is too high. But I can meet people outside and if wearing a Bane mask means I can participate in a Covid world, then bring on Tom Hardy.
For some of us, mask compliance is literally a matter of life and death and for the first time in my adult life, I am relying on other people’s common sense to protect me.
It takes people for viruses to spread, which is why lockdown measures work. As continued lockdowns are economically unviable and a vaccine could take years, masks are our best solution. Those contesting medical advice are playing Russian roulette not only with their own lives but the lives of others. For some of us, mask compliance is literally a matter of life and death and for the first time in my adult life, I am relying on other people’s common sense to protect me. Nobody should have to die alone in a fluorescently lit hospital ward surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits because wearing a mask doesn’t suit your mood.
So please wear one.
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