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Columnists

Masks, Like Men’s Handkerchiefs, Are Gross

So many issues nowadays qualify as ‘third rail’ that hardly any remain on the first and second rails. People are so high-strung, they don’t pay careful enough attention to what they’re reading.

With that in mind, as yet again I enter the minefield of pandemic politics, here are some points to keep straight:

First, masks and vaccines are two different issues. Whether an individual or community incurs a greater health risk by receiving versus foregoing the vaccine is entirely different from whether a cloth facial covering reasonably protects the virus’ spread.

Second, I am neither an ‘anti-vaxxer’ nor an ‘anti-masker’ because I think vaccinating, and/or masking, is appropriate in some but not all circumstances.

Third, because I unabashedly declare that masks are ‘gross’ doesn’t mean that I consider that a valid reason not to wear them, if in fact they do some actual good. After all, performing open-heart surgery is ‘gross’ too, when you think about it, but it saves lives.

Fourth, I remind our readers that I’m neither a physician nor a scientist, so, take my comments with a grain of salt.

Fifth, just because I often criticize the medical and scientific communities – which I’m about to do again – doesn’t mean I don’t respect them and don’t think they bring tremendous value to our society.

When Americans first started taking the virus seriously, in early March, 2020, I looked at the numbers: fewer than one percent of the population was infected, and of those, fewer than one percent didn’t recover. Here in Florida, there were no mask mandates, but private businesses had the right to impose them if they so chose. I purchased two masks, bearing Boston Celtics and Deep Purple logos, my favorite sports team and rock band, respectively. I carried them with me just in case someone asked me to put one on, but I knew that because they weren’t N95 quality, they were basically colorful face versions of panty hose.

Mind you, at the time, I certainly didn’t take the virus lightly. I did everything I could to avoid it. Repeated handwashing, diligent germ tracking, spraying things with rubbing alcohol, or placing them in the sunlight, not allowing anyone in the house with shoes on. I didn’t know if those were overreactions, but I wasn’t about to take any chances.

Nonetheless, my seemingly cavalier attitude about knowingly hauling around a piece of cloth that was more a ‘virtue signal prop’ than an actual viral prophylactic was not because I made light of the virus, but because I thought my chances of contracting it were slim. But a few months later, in early September, 2020, despite worsening statistics, I decided to book a trip on an airplane.

Not knowing then what I know now, about extensively purified air on planes rendering them among the least likely environments in which to contract the virus, I was quite apprehensive. That’s when I wanted to buy a real mask – one that actually works – and I purchased bunch of bona fide N95s. NOTE: The Chinese-made KN95s supposedly work too, but when it came to this Wuhan-born virus, I wanted nothing to do with any Chinese products or remedies.

For good measure, I also bought a face shield; that would take care of protecting my eyes. I wiped down every square inch of space within reach – from my seat, to my seatbelt, to my portable tray.

Meanwhile, the other passengers, as well as most people around me both in Florida and up North, thought they were protecting themselves with their glorified doo-rags.

At last, almost a year and a half later, Dr. Anthony Fauci changed the narrative – yet again – finally talking about “high quality” masks. And in his State of the Union address, President Biden – who often wears a mask when walking alone outdoors but doesn’t always wear one when speaking to crowds indoors – specifically referred to N95 masks.

That’s what’s exasperating: how did I, a nonscientist and nonphysician, figure out way back when that some masks are clearly more effective than others? If it took an extra 18 months for it to dawn on our anointed pandemic czar and the leader of the free world, why would I possibly want to turn to them for guidance?

At this point, for those who still habitate where masks are mandatory, would you at least please keep clean them?

Men’s handkerchiefs – except for pocket squares, which nowadays are for fashion purposes only – are a thing of the past, and I say good riddance! They were still around when I was a kid, though, and few things were more disgusting than watching a man blow into a handkerchief that fully showcased his dried nasal discharge, presumably from a nose-blowing earlier that day – or week!

I thought we’d seen the last of that, until people started sporting masks.
Now we’re faced with the same problems we had before handkerchiefs were replaced by disposable tissues and over-the-counter antihistamines: a virus conglomerate loitering on one’s mask, ready for takeoff.

By the way, there was a guy on my September 2020 flight who sneezed four times. On each occasion, he pulled up his mask and sneezed into the common airspace. Essentially, his options were either to infect all of us, or infect others hours later who came within inches of his ‘protective’ mask.

Grady Wilson, brilliantly portrayed by Whitman Mayo, was a supporting character on the 1970s hit sitcom Sanford and Son. Grady had a habit of blowing his nose very loudly into his dirty, overused handkerchief, and those in the room often gazed at him in disgust. Well, now we’re surrounded by hundreds of millions of Gradies who don’t know when it’s time to wash or replace their filthy snotrag.

What’s both sad and amusing is that they think they’re keeping you safe.

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