This weekend, after barely leaving my house for almost two months, I ventured out for a walk, and to take my family for a special treat at our local Starbucks drive-thru. Part of the reason I’d hesitated to venture out that much over the past few weeks is because I live in Long Island, New York, right on the Queens/Nassau border, where cases of COVID-19 were exploding during March and April.
As of this writing, my county has had over 36,000 positive cases, and over 1700 deaths – which is comparable to the stats from the five boroughs of NYC. So yeah, I’ve been living in the epicenter of this pandemic and was taking extreme measures to keep my family and my neighbors safe.
But, as a result of our efforts, New York had been seeing a drop in cases over the past few weeks (thank gawd), and so I decided it was time to very carefully venture out of my apartment, practicing strict social distancing, of course.
Not only that, but two weeks ago our governor mandated that all New Yorkers must wear masks in public when they aren’t able to properly distance, so I figured that would help … right? I would protect myself and others with my mask, and my neighbors would do so as well.
Yes, many of the people I saw wandering the streets were wearing masks. But many of them simply weren’t. Sure, many of were keeping a safe “social distance” from others. But many were wandering the sidewalks, near others, not really making any attempt to distance.
More than once, as I was walking through town, I had to run the other way, or cross the street to stay away from folks who weren’t wearing masks and didn’t seem to give a shit about the “six feet rule.”
WTAF? This is New York, one of the biggest COVID-19 hotspots on planet earth right now, and people still don’t get that idea that doing things like quarantining, socially distancing, washing hands, and wearing mask is crucial to stopping the spread of a virus that is killing tens of thousands of our neighbors.
You know what’s great about people who wear masks in a pandemic? They give a sh*t about the well-being of others. Thank you for being the kind of people the world needs.
— John Pavlovitz (@johnpavlovitz) May 3, 2020
As my governor himself explained in a recent press conference, wearing masks is a sign of respect. There are countless folks who are literally risking their lives for us. Doctors, nurses, and other essential workers, who are potentially exposing themselves to a deadly virus each day to keep the rest of us safe.
Want to know the best way to honor our brave health care workers some of whom literally gave their lives to save others?
Act responsibly and wear a mask outside.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) May 3, 2020
The least we can do is wear a damn mask. It’s a small gesture. It’s a very small sacrifice. And basically, you’re an asshole if you can’t go ahead and wear one. There’s really no nice way of saying it.
“If you expect elementary school children to endure the trauma of active shooter drills for your freedoms, you can wear a mask to Costco.”
— NurseKelsey (@nursekelsey) May 1, 2020
Why, you may ask, do you have to wear one? Well, I’m glad you asked. As the CDC explains, because COVID-19 is often transmitted via coughs and sneezes, and because many folks may be asymptomatic for days before showing symptoms, masks play a vital role in protecting us.
Masks are not foolproof, of course, but they ensure that if you cough or sneeze, some of the stuff that comes shooting out of you is contained and can’t travel to others. Masks are more about protecting other people from yourself than anything else. Like social distancing and washing your hands, they decrease your risk of transmitting the virus or getting infected with it.
Why on earth wouldn’t you want to decrease your risk?
And it’s not just New York state. The CDC is recommending that everyone wear one when they are in public situations where they aren’t able to socially distance (important note: children under the age of two should not wear a mask).
So what does that look like? Wear a mask anytime you go to the store, walk down sidewalks where others may be walking, or any other situation where you can’t maintain a six foot distance from others. Obviously, we all want to avoid those situations as much as possible anyway, but when we are in them, it behooves us all to please-for-the-love-of-god, wear a mask.
Now look. I understand that mask wearing is a bit of a pain-in-the-ass. When I was walking briskly the other day and building up as a sweat, I wanted to rip my mask off my face. And I did allow myself to take a few breaths without the mask when I was well away from other people, and walking on a few completely deserted streets near my house.
It’s important to understand that the mandate for wearing a mask, as outlined by the CDC, is that masks be worn in those situations where that six-foot gap between yourself and others is not possible. So, yes, there is some very slight wiggle room here.
But if you are in a public setting, and you think there’s even a small chance of another human being getting within a few feet of you, do us all a favor and just put that damn mask on over your face. Do it for yourself. Do it for that person. Do it for all the people either of you could potentially infect if one of you got sick.
And please, do it even if there aren’t a ton of COVID cases in your area, because this virus is sneaky, and often hides in plain sight before people show symptoms and it begins to spread like wildfire. If you live in an area that hasn’t been hard-hit yet, socially distancing and wearing a mask is how you keep cases low in your area.
In so many ways, COVID-19 is bringing out the best in people. So many of us have made sacrifices we never thought we could. I can’t even begin to thank the heroes in our midst who are working under the most stressful and traumatic situations imaginable to do their part in saving and protecting lives.
At the same time, this crisis has shown just how few fucks some people have about their fellow humans. You may think that this virus isn’t going to affect you. You may think you’re the one who doesn’t need to socially distant or wear a mask.
But—besides the fact that this virus doesn’t give a shit how healthy or how young you are, as anyone is vulnerable to its wrath—doing things like wearing a mask isn’t about you. It just isn’t.
It’s about the healthcare system that can’t afford to care for more patients than it already is. It’s about the doctor and the nurse who have no choice but to go into work and potentially expose themselves to this virus. It’s about the elderly. It’s about the immunocompromised among us. It’s about those with underlying conditions.
It’s about all of us, because the more this virus spreads, the longer it will take for us to get our lives, our jobs, and our sanity back.
It’s okay if you haven’t been wearing a mask up till now. But now is the time to start. Fucking now.
P.S. In terms of the masks themselves, as long as you have something secure that covers your nose and mouth, you are good to go. Disposable masks are fine, but N95 medical grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers. You can buy a cloth mask from a site like Etsy. Or you can make one yourself.