Mask(less) Mandates

Last updated: June 2022

Right now, I'm wearing my N95 Kimberly-Clark mask (that resembles a giant duckbill a little too closely) as I'm substitute teaching a high school social studies class. I can see three other students in this classroom wearing masks, which is indicative of how few students and staff are wearing masks in this building--or any school building in Minnesota's Twin Cities metro area.

Feeling unsettled as the mask mandates ease up

Outside of the Twin Cities, I wouldn't be surprised to see NO masks in the schools, sadly. Since returning to substitute teaching in early March, it's been jarring to see so many people not wearing masks. Sporting my incredibly attractive, big, white, duck-diaper mask while teaching, I inwardly wince with anxiety whenever I have to squeeze through the crowded hallways and have mobs of germy, maskless students breathing on me.

I would wince and flinch anyway before COVID-19 because I'm short and run the risk of being slammed into or bowled over by rowdy kids who invariably do not understand what boundaries are. The hormonal stench of puberty literally in my face also induces much involuntary wincing. But throw a deadly pandemic into the hallways and classrooms and it turns into an even more nerve-wracking environment and situation, especially if you're immunocompromised.

Is it too early to dismiss COVID-19 safety precautions?

I'm ecstatic and relieved that COVID-19 cases have finally gone down and seem to be staying quite low, finally, however, I still feel nervous about being unmasked indoors, especially when surrounded by large groups of people. Schools are breeding grounds for a wide array of germs and sickness, so one would think that reducing the risk of people getting COVID-19 would still be a high priority in the schools. But oh no, people are running around (and have been) like the pandemic is completely over and life is back to normal.

Better safe than sorry

I know everyone is sick of wearing masks and having their lives disrupted because of this horrible virus. I'm certainly tired of it. There are probably a lot of people who maybe think I'm being overly cautious or dramatic because I still think people should be taking COVID-19 precautions, like masking indoors, getting vaccinated and boosted, and not gathering in large groups indoors. Isn't it better to be safe than sorry?

Maybe I'm neurotic and a worrywart, but since I last checked, COVID-19 is not gone. Nor will it ever be gone from our lives. Plus, now we have the even more contagious Omicron BA.2 variant that's become the dominant variant in the United States. How can something be even more contagious than Omicron, which I clearly remember spreading like one of those massive California wildfires? Well, it is. And as long as I'm on my "Debbie-downer" COVID-19 tangent, there are still a lot of people who haven't been vaccinated or received booster shots--their first or second. Is it really safe for us to be getting rid of mask mandates and running wild in public with uncovered faces and a sense of (possibly false) security?

RA makes me part of the high-risk population

While the COVID-19 vaccinations have proven to be incredibly effective at protecting people from severe illness and hospitalizations, high-risk people, such as myself and many others, still need to be careful to avoid contracting the virus as much as possible. Yet how is that going to be possible as more and more mask and vaccination mandates fall away, as easily as the masks seem to be falling off people's faces? This is a tough situation, as COVID-19 rules and restrictions begin to dramatically ease up, especially so for high-risk and immunocompromised people.

We still need to be careful, even though everyone else feels invincible. Our immune systems are weakened due to our diseases and the medications we must take in order to control those diseases. We're exhausted from living with the fear and stress of this virus, too, and also want to rip our masks off and throw them away forever. We don't have that luxury, however, as "normal-risk" able-bodied people do right now.

Feeling peer pressure to let go of masks

There is also a sort of peer pressure I see happening regarding wearing masks. The less masks you see on people's faces and out in public, the more you feel awkward and like a big weirdo wearing one yourself. Who really cares what you look like, of course, when it comes to protecting your health and safety? Here I am walking around looking like Daisy Duck while the majority of people look and act like it's 2019 and COVID-19 is a distant memory. Even though I know it's safer to continue masking, I do feel tempted to also get rid of these inconvenient, ugly things.

Concern for my family's safety

My own father was complaining recently to my mom about not wanting to wear a mask in public because he sees other people not wearing them anymore. I've been told he's been taking his mask off sometimes in public when indoors. My dad has incurable cancer and is in his 70s. I'm not at all happy hearing this news from my mom (who still wears a mask in public, thank God), and I really do not want to have to go back to nagging him to wear one. It took a lot of nagging, I mean reminding, during the early days of the pandemic to get him into the habit of wearing a mask every time he left the house. I don't want to have to deal with the fear of my parents getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19 because everyone else is throwing away their masks and their pandemic inhibitions.

Will we continue to be safe amidst this wave of mask abandonment? If another surge comes and hits us, how difficult will it be to go back to being careful, cautious, and safe? The possible COVID-19 surge scenarios regarding masks, vaccinations, and other precautions make me think of the saying, "You can't put the toothpaste back into the tube once it's out." If needed, will people be able to conform to wearing masks again? My fear is that the mask "toothpaste" has been squeezed so far out of the tube that there is no return, no matter what happens. I hope I'm wrong. And I hope I will continue looking like a silly duck for as long as I have to, albeit reluctantly. Someone actually QUACKED at me once in public a couple months ago. I replied, "Well, I'd rather look like a stupid duck than die from COVID." Quack that.

Please, for the sake of us immunocompromised and high-risk people, and everyone, keep your mask on a little bit longer in risky environments and situations. I'm not asking people to wear gigantic, heavy astronaut's helmets or plastic zip-loc bags over their heads; it's just a little mask and we've survived wearing them this long. Let's stay smart and continue to protect everyone as much as possible.

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