Vexations and Conundrums

By Katina Pontikes



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Life will surprise you, no matter how carefully you try to orchestrate the trajectory of your future. 2020 has morphed from a year in which I was going to have a relaxed, travel-filled experience, to the year I have spent conjuring ways to outrun the COVID-19 plague.

After watching what seems like thousands of hours of news shows featuring bespectacled virus and vaccine experts sharing everything they have learned in decades of specialization, what I have determined is that we all need to wear masks. We need to wear said masks more than we like to imagine. Some specialists go so far as to wear their masks when outdoors walking or visiting with a friend.

Cut to what I witness in my everyday life. I still see too many mouths. However, most people have finally started to receive the mask message and don their face coverings when going out. Something caught the public’s attention, because, according to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of people masking in the U.S. went from 65 percent in June to 85 percent in August.

Why did people take so long to decide to cover their noses and mouths? Early in the pandemic, the masking messages were mixed. That didn’t help. But finally, masking became a generally accepted message from the medical and scientific communities.

I’ve heard, “I don’t like the way they feel, they’re hot.” This excuse insinuates that everyone else loves the way it feels to inhale your own hot breath or have your lip balm spread to your chin. I wish I didn’t have to wear them either. (Oh, red lipstick, how I miss thee!)

Some people have claimed mask mandates infringe on their personal freedom. I wonder to myself if they mean their freedom to kill me with coronavirus germs.

In our condominium, the battle with the non-maskers has become an issue. The building management decided something had to be done to persuade all tenants to follow the rules. A rather hefty fine was levied against offenders for each day they were spotted with uncovered faces. I heard someone was so adamant not to have the rule, she just paid the fine. I think we need to raise the fine until we hit a financially intolerable threshold, where the act of rebellion comes with a pinch.

In a society on pins and needles from pandemic stresses, tempers are on edge. Should a cashier ask a customer to mask up, there is a chance for potential mayhem to ensue. Videos of such encounters are all over social media, one with a “Karen” throwing everything from her shopping basket across the room, one item at a time.

I witnessed one situation where a patron was told to leave a store until he could mask. The person responded, at the checkout, “But I haven’t paid for my things!” The clerk replied, “That won’t be necessary. Leave your basket.” The shopper left, but without an entire basket of goods which had to have taken an hour to accumulate.

I have decided that masks are here to stay for a long time. I bought lots of ugly, surgical-looking masks. Then it occurred to me that masking could be a fashion statement. I started searching the Internet for pretty printed masks. I have a mask station in my living room where I can grab the prettiest or most practical mask for the moment. Going to dump trash? Grab that white paper number. Heading to the lobby to check mail? The flowered pink mask says my resilience is doing fine, thank you, to any neighbor I may pass along the way.

Meanwhile, my first temptation is to try puritanical shunning of those who refuse to comply with the minimum step to saving lives. If I encounter persons without masks, I could dramatically jump out of their way, to signal my desire to avoid them. Or I could pull my mask down and laugh loudly at them, and they would wonder if they had been infected.

Then I heard an excellent interview between two doctors on Facebook, one an expert in infectious disease. The behaviors above would be considered mean and ineffective. I want to be neither of those. I learned that I should be kind and do my part to educate others that data supports masking to reduce illness and fatalities.

I will continue to wear my mask. Underneath it, I’ll be clenching my teeth if I encounter an unmasked individual, knowing their behavior may keep this pandemic with us a lot longer.

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