Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: Doing my best not to spit on you

Call me a whiner, but I don’t like having to wear a mask in public.
Since I rarely leave the house now — once a week or when the fridge is down to a bag of wilted celery and a five-year-old squeeze bottle of mustard, whichever comes first — I’m still getting used to the conventions of social distancing. The mask just adds to my stress level.
It was only a few months ago that we were thoughtlessly spraying saliva in one another’s bare faces like exotic spitting lizards. Now we’re nervously peering over the tops of our colorful calico face coverings, afraid of so much as clearing our throats in public.
I get it: Masks reduce the transmission of COVID-19. So as much as I feel that it infringes on my constitutional right to spatter others with my spit, I’m resigned to wearing a mask for the foreseeable future.
I imagine cotton masks will soon be sold three for the price of two at checkout counters, like hair scrunchies, but for now, they’re hard to come by. They’re like the must-have fashion trend of 2020, if the trend were for uncomfortable accessories no one wanted to wear.
I’m not great at sewing, but when authorities started recommending that face masks be worn in public, I dug up some old fabric scraps and elastic, and I googled a popular mask-making tutorial. 
The instructions, though straightforward, at times exceeded my abilities. Maybe sewing experts can cut two six-by-nine-inch rectangles on the first try, but not all of us are that gifted. 
I made a few sort-of rectangular masks for each of my family members and myself. And, in a beautiful outpouring of generosity, dozens of volunteers in the area stepped up to produce thousands of masks to give away. Now masks are a wardrobe staple, perhaps more expected than even pants, although those are still recommended. 
I’ve gone out eight times in the past two months, and I’ve worn a mask every time, partly because I’m a rule follower by nature, but also because I have this weird desire not to kill anyone.
Look: I doubt I have the virus. Addison County has had hardly any new cases in a month, and there are hermits living in mountain caves who get out more than I do. But I also believe that the precautions we’ve taken as a community are largely why we’re doing so well.
I’d like to keep it that way.
Still, wearing a mask is uncomfortable. It obscures facial cues. When other people in masks look at me, I can’t tell if they’re smiling at me or judging me because my mask looks like a factory second.
Also, the mask gives me claustrophobia. Sometimes I’ll be standing in line at checkout when I start thinking about how much harder it is to breathe through two layers of cotton.
Am I even getting oxygen? I need oxygen! Sometimes I panic, almost to the point of fainting. (If I ever do faint, I’ll just tell everyone I had a seizure so they don’t think I’m weak.)
But I still wear a mask.
With my eyes, I try to convey the following sentiment to other mask-wearing strangers: “Hello, friend. Just as I am buying anything I inadvertently touch — even this gallon of milk that I now see expires tomorrow but which I have contaminated with my contact and thus cannot put back — I am wearing a mask out of respect and concern for your health.
“I don’t believe I have COVID-19, but many carriers are asymptomatic. So to avoid coughing or spitting or yodeling or otherwise strafing you with viral droplets, I am wearing this mask.
“I thank you for doing the same for me, and I hope you will consider me a friend in return, if only because we are both wandering around this store, hyperaware of virus protocol and trying not to think about the lack of oxygen, all while coexisting under a dark cloud of coronavirus angst.” 
(Even when I’m nonverbal, I tend to go on way too long.)
I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t like wearing masks. So I think the CDC, for the next pandemic, ought to consider recommending a protective accessory that will be more readily accepted by the public.
I’m no virologist, but, solely on the basis of fashion, I vote for capes.

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