Five years ago a sports injury forced me to wear a light brace on my knee. Within a few months the joint was fine, yet to this day I continue to wear a brace on both knees when on the field. I feel there is prophylactic value, but also a sense of comfort and security.
Perhaps that helps explain why, as mask mandates are being relaxed, I find myself in a minority that welcomes being masked — at least in certain situations.
In other countries, principally in Asia, masks were worn routinely in public before COVID-19 came along. Often it was to avoid the effects of severe air pollution, but also to be respectful about transmitting disease. There’s no reason why Americans, having become comfortable with masking during the pandemic, couldn’t be more conscientious going forward.
A survey last fall by USC Annenberg found that 46% of respondents favored wearing masks in stores and other indoor locations outside the home, even after the pandemic passes. Personally, I might stick with masking in crowded subways, concerts — any indoor space where strangers are packed together.
One benefit of voluntary masking would be to reduce the impact of seasonal flu. Before the pandemic, in the 2017-2018 flu season, there were an estimated 41 million cases in the U.S. resulting in 710,000 hospitalizations and 52,000 deaths.
Where else might the lessons of COVID improve our health awareness going forward?
Consider the protocol for food preparation at, say, a Subway shop. It wasn’t long ago that wearing disposable gloves became the norm — a simple way to keep employees from accidentally transmitting germs. Doesn’t it also make sense for food-handlers to wear masks, as they have been during the pandemic?
How about hospital visitors? It seems logical that everyone entering a hospital should don a mask, not just because of COVID but because hospitals are filled with sick people who could infect others, or who are at risk of serious consequences if they become infected by germs brought in from outside.
Should pharmacists wear masks? I think so. Masking should also be urged for customers picking up prescriptions.
The pandemic has provided other lessons about behavior modification. Logically, we should pretty much eliminate all handshakes. It really makes no sense to walk into a meeting room, for example, and immediately shake the hands of a dozen strangers. Or, when my friends and I play amateur baseball, the notion that after the game 15 or more players from each team shake hands now seems crazy. An elbow bump would be fine.
Politicians learned long ago to discreetly use sanitizer during and after hand-shaking sessions. Indeed the State Department’s Protocol Reference document recommends that hot towels or hand sanitizer be available on receiving lines.
How about sneezing into your elbow? Shouldn’t that become the norm? Sneezing into your hand — the one you’ll use later to shake — is ridiculous.
But the focus going forward should be on voluntary masking when it makes sense. High-traffic locations such airports, supermarkets and movie theaters ought to have permanent signs advising: “If you’re feeling sick today or have active cold or flu symptoms, please wear a mask.”
Once freed of social and political stigmas, it would be nice if common sense took over.
Copyright 2022 Peter Funt distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.