Not since the glove in the O.J. Simpson murder case has a piece of fabric received more notoriety and discussion than the modern mask. Even after Joe Biden shuffled up to the mic to take what was supposed to be a verbal victory lap for COVID decline, a surprising number of Americans were still reluctant to believe in the safety of “facing” the world without it.
In a contentious America whose resentments are played out publicly in the name of race, sex, social status, and political affiliation, it is perhaps not surprising that one’s choice to wear or discard a mask has also given rise to controversy.
Yet even now, there are far fewer objections to wearing a mask than to getting inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccines, despite the fact that the latter has been determined virtually fool-proof and the former just about useless.
For the first time since his presidency, Biden was conspicuously mask-less as he delivered the CDC verdict to the effect that vaccinated Americans — or those who gained immunity from having had the disease — were now free, with some exceptions, to remove their masks. As he droned on, Chameleon Joe tried to transform himself from the long-dark-winter, doom-and-gloom candidate into the triumphant victor over the virus. In fact, he had the chutzpah to taunt so-called “naysayers” over whom he himself had pessimistically presided.
One would think this long anticipated good news might send compliant Americans pouring into the streets to make bonfires of their well worn masks. But perhaps due to Biden’s general flip-flopping on issues, a surprising number of skeptical people — ironically, most of them Democrats — did not take him at his word.
My own celebration proved premature. Having removed the various masks hanging on my doorknobs and burying them in a dresser drawer, I showed my face in the corridors of my apartment complex, only to be reprimanded by management for not wearing a mask. I was brusquely informed that state and local jurisdictions had their own set of rules regardless of the latest CDC recommendations.
The next day, I was surprised to find that masks and social distancing signs had been removed from my local supermarket. When I entered the store, however, I felt like a looter. What was I doing in a place where at least 95% of the shoppers were still covering their faces? And worse, their disapproving eyes seemed to be searching me out!
I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Despite the fact that our government had spent millions on vaccine research, development, testing, distribution, and injection, the preponderance of shoppers in that market still felt that the ultimate protection from viral illness or death lay in an unspecified, flimsy piece of fabric suspended over half their face. Justin Bieber may be unpopular now, but JustIn Case is riding high.
Weeks later, this trend persists. Check out the background people in TV news stories, and note that only one or two in the crowd are not wearing masks. Some of them could be unvaccinated, but that hardly jibes with the CDC reports that most eligible Americans have already rolled up their sleeves for the shots or have natural immunity from having had COVID. Now there is the further absurdity of trying to bribe Americans to get vaccinated. It is like staying put in a burning building until the fireman agrees to brings you a free hamburger, French fries, and beer.
Naturally, face coverings are less invasive than inoculations and lack the possible side effects. Mandated at the inception of the pandemic and well before the slightest possibility of a vaccine, masks were universally unpopular in the beginning. Yet we learned to clap them on our faces, ignoring the constant confusion as to their effectiveness. What other choice, after all, had we been given? Masks appeared to be the only thing that we could do as a group to stop the spread of the disease. People who refused to wear them were eventually viewed as unpatriotic pariahs. The ugly term “spreader” came to mean something more than a means of fertilizing a lawn. The only thing that excused the mask’s absence and exceeded its mandate was unfettered participation in a BLM protest. In fact, leftist news sources knocked themselves out trying to “prove” that such mask-less events did not escalate COVID cases.
In any event, donning a mask wasn’t all that big a deal. It was sort of like signing on to the idea of global warming. While there has never been unassailable proof that windmills, solar panels, etc. can actually save us from disaster — or, in fact, that we even need saving — the idea itself is embraced because it sounds so intrinsically noble and — best of all — takes so little personal sacrifice to support.
After a while, we got used to the idea of wearing a mask. For some, it even became convenient. With it in place, the need for facial grooming plummeted, even as the rest of our bodies swelled from the consumption of comfort foods, often conveniently delivered to our place of shelter. Under the circumstances, it might even be considered a blessing not to be recognized.
I won’t go so far as to suggest that a spiritual belief system developed around the mask, in the manner, say, of the Shroud of Turin. But there’s little doubt that for some, it became a scrap of security always on hand — or on face — like Linus’ beloved blanket. Though countless masks slipped below noses or hung by threads, the supposition behind them was always, in truth, more talisman than guarantee. Rather than argue, it simply became the thing to do.
The mask might also have some significance in terms of our national psyche: a small action that in some way united us all. It’s possible that because of the mask, we no longer registered people as black or white, male or female, old or young. We were the masketeers — all for one and one for all. Speaker Pelosi tried to elevate the mask to an attention-getting fashion statement, a rather flippant and narcissistic gesture under the grim circumstances. Manufacturers jumped into the burgeoning market with different designs, features, and materials. It was American ingenuity at its best.
As the pandemic worsened, few believed anything our leaders told us. And the biggest whopper was that “we are all in this together,” suggesting that the pandemic was an equal-opportunity destroyer. Nothing was farther from the truth. Bureaucrats determined what trades could continue and which had to close. The livelihoods of some Americans were suspended, leaving them anxious and financially strapped. Others were barely impacted, their jobs managed remotely, their income streams steady.
Later, the government slowed down recovery by giving the unemployed more money than they could earn by returning to work.
In the course of the pandemic, some families lost loved ones; others did not. Seniors were singled out early on as most vulnerable, but even those who managed to survive the lockdowns would never be the same.
And the frustrating injustices did not stop there. Public officials who mismanaged the pandemic have yet to pay the price. Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose foolhardy decision to return active COVID sufferers to their nursing homes, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of elderly New Yorkers.
Yet there he sits in his Albany mansion, enriched by a book deal and thus far immune from charges of sexual misconduct. On the other coast, hypocrite Governor Gavin Newsom is handing out federal taxpayer monies to mollify enraged constituents. The once Golden State has in place a gubernatorial recall system, but while there may be a way, is there a will?
Who knows how much longer the mask fetish may remain? Next to the mismanagement, deceit, lies, and ignorance on display by those in power during this debilitating siege, it is perhaps the least of our concerns. If vaccinated, there’s less chance of getting infected than of being struck by lightning. But those who are still without immunity should not expect the mask to hedge their bets.
Image via Pexels.
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