Mask musings
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OPINION

Mask musings

Wardrobe

Over the course of the past several months, I have amassed a wardrobe of cloth masks. I’ve purchased a variety of colors that either match my mood of the day or what I am wearing — bright purple, navy blue, pink, shades of blue and magenta. I responded to email ads from a variety of sales sources and bought artistic ones that look like the design of a Tiffany lamp or an abstract painting. Most of these loop around the ears but a couple have Velcro closures at the back of the head, more secure for a wearer of hearing aids. And after acquiring a routine of weekly washing and rotating these pandemic fashion items, I have read the recent updates that make clear that none of these masks are the preferred ones.

The white or black NK95 masks cover the nose and mouth and give the best protection for airborne particles that could carry and disperse the virus. Do I discard the collection of face coverings that have found a residence in every coat and jacket pocket in my closet and the caddy in my car, or might they come back into use down the road? We don’t know which road we are going down, up, or along, in the weeks and months ahead. It’s confusing.

Litter

I’m sure that everyone who walks outdoors has noticed discarded masks, primarily the blue disposable ones, but also the black and white variety, littering the sidewalks. They float in puddles and collect in parking lots. I can’t figure this out. Is it carelessness or an act of protest that leads to this littering? Most people do not toss used tissues into the street. I’ve checked that available trash receptacles in front of shops are used and cleared routinely by public works vehicles. So what does it mean that many folks are not stuffing their masks into a coat pocket to take home and put in their garbage, but are choosing to discard them heedlessly on the street or sidewalk? I find this behavior repugnant, and I don’t understand it. It’s confusing.

Keep yourself and others safe

Signs posted in the elevator of my apartment building and in the window of many stores and restaurants in the neighborhood where I live say “Wear A Mask to Protect Yourself and Others.” It’s a clear, simple, declarative sentence, not easily misinterpreted or misunderstood. I’m glad to see that most people I pass on the street or encounter in the building are compliant these days when the omicron variant is surging. However, we know from countless articles and news bulletins that objectors to mask mandates are emboldened, and they are fierce in their opposition. They are finding that their refusal to wear a mask creates a bond with other like-minded folks, which serves to reinforce their protest against this public health precaution. They identify with a community that has developed a distorted interpretation of what is implied to have free choice.

Do these people not want to protect themselves and others? Do they refuse to wear a seat belt while driving? Do they not obey posted speed limits? I can’t believe that all the headline grabbers are home schooling their kids because they refuse polio, smallpox, and diphtheria vaccines. What is it about covid and the government’s attempts to encourage mask wearing to control the spread of this contagious disease that has sparked such vehement opposition?

I won’t change my negative opinion about their stance against scientific evidence. I won’t come around to thinking it’s OK to ignore the effects on others of one’s personal behavior in the public arena. Their protest evades my understanding. It’s not even confusing. I feel that it’s deeply wrong.

Let’s all keep in mind our basic religious teachings and embed them within our minds and hearts. “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “ If I am (only) for myself, then what am I?”

Elaine Shizgal Cohen, EdD, lives in Englewood. She is a retired Jewish educator, an active community volunteer, and leads “Wise Aging” groups that endeavor to help people develop resilience as they grow older.

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