Still Wearing a Mask?

“How come you’re still wearing a mask?”  The question came out of nowhere from the man sitting at the other end of the shopping-mall bench.  I was waiting for my wife to exit one of the shops, and I assumed he was waiting on someone, too.

“Why do you care?” I replied, touching my mask self-consciously.

He shrugged.  “Don’t really care, I guess.  None of my business, really, but I’m just curious.  You’re ‘bout the only one in the whole mall who’s wearing one.  They say Covid’s over, right?”

I followed his gaze, noticed a few maskers among the passers-by, but not many.  “You really want to know?” I asked.  “Or are you just trying to hector me?”

“My name’s not Hector,” he said with a tiny grin, and we both laughed.  “Hey, I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want an answer.”

“Okay,” I said, encouraged to engage.  “You ever been hit by a train?”

“A train?  Not that I recall, and I think I would.  Why?”  The grin lingered.

“Do you ever walk along rail-lines or across trestles?” I asked.

“Of course not.  Train-time is anytime, right?  That’s what the signs say.”

“Would your odds of being hit by a train be higher or lower if you did choose to walk the tracks, ignoring the signs?” I asked.

He looked around for a moment, puffing his cheeks.  “Higher, I guess.  What’s that got to do with wearing a mask?”

“I think my odds of catching Covid are higher if I don’t wear a mask,” I said.  “I’ve never been hit by a train, either, and like you, I don’t tempt fate by walking along the tracks.  Nor have I had Covid, so I’m just looking to lower the odds of catching it.”

“You can still catch it, even wearing a mask,” he said.

“You can,” I agreed.  “Even though, as you mentioned a minute ago, they claim it’s over.”

He looked at me, didn’t reply.

“I’m not sure who they are, but despite what you might’ve heard, Covid is not over,” I continued.  “According to what I read, it will never be over, just like smallpox, cholera, diphtheria or polio aren’t over.  Those viruses will always be with us, and it’s up to us to protect ourselves.  Vaccinations and masking are two of the best ways of doing that.”

“You vaxed?” the man asked.

“Four times,” I said.  “And I’ll get another shot when my doctor recommends it.”

“Me and my wife are double-vaxed,” the man said.  “They told us that’s all we needed.”  He smiled as he said it.

“I know vaxes and masks don’t guarantee I won’t get it,” I said.  “But I think they affect the odds in my favour.”

“Some people think the government’s got no right to make everybody wear masks,” the man said.  “They say it’s a free country and they got free choice.”

After pondering that for a bit, I said, “I could agree with them, I suppose.  You’ve made your choice, I’ve made mine, and both of us have the right to do that. But we will face the consequences of our choices.  Still, nobody has the right to infringe on the rights of others, either.”

“Meaning what?”

“You ever get on an empty elevator and smell cigarette smoke?” I asked.

“Not lately,” he replied.  “Can’t smoke indoors now, remember?”

“But what if some jackass doesn’t follow that rule?  What if they do smoke in an elevator, and then you get on after they’ve left?  You enjoy the smell of second-hand smoke?”

“I gave up smoking years ago,” the man said.

“Okay, good!  Now suppose that guy, instead of being a smoker, has Covid,” I continued.  “He’s on the elevator you’re going to get on, maybe on his phone, so the droplets and aerosols from his talking and breathing are being released into the air.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So those aerosols hang around when he gets off,” I said.  “Like second-hand cigarette smoke, except you can’t see or smell them.  And science has told us the Covid virus is attached to those aerosols, which is how the disease spreads.  You breathe them in, even if the sick guy has gone, and next thing you know…”

“If that’s how Covid spreads, why are they always telling us to wash our hands?” the man asked.

“Exactly!” I exclaimed.  “Why do they tell us that?  Hand-washing is good for overall hygiene, no question.  But that’s not how Covid spreads.”

“How do you know?”

“I know because I choose who to listen to, who to read,” I said.  “Epidemiologists and immunologists are more reliable, as a rule, than politicians or others with vested interests.  I could follow all the advice from the best experts and still get Covid, I know that.  But again, it’s all about rigging the odds in my favour.”

“So you don’t think Covid is over?”

“No one thinks it’s over,” I said.  “Even they—the people who keep telling us we don’t need to mask up—even they don’t think it’s over.  Instead, they tell us it’s time to get on with our lives, learn to live with it, make our own risk-assessments.  The problem is, they no longer provide us with the information we need to assess our risks effectively.  No testing and no reporting, even though they know the Covid variants are here to stay, in one mutation or another.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about variants,” he said.  “What one are we on now?”

“Based on what I’ve read,” I said, “the dominant variants here now are Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, which are highly transmissible and perhaps as severe as the original BA.2 variant.  Rather than attacking the upper-respiratory tract, they go deeper into the lungs like that variant did, and they’re more likely to evade immunity.”

The man watched the people marching past us for a few moments.

“I agree we do have to learn to live with this disease,” I said, “because it’s not ever going away.  And until we achieve some sort of immunity, if we ever do, wearing a mask is one excellent way I have to protect myself and others around me.  Staying up to date with vaxes is another, and testing is a third.  And when I do any of those things, it doesn’t impinge on your rights at all.  But people who don’t do any of those things, if they become ill, can infect others around them—which is an infringement on the rights of those affected.”

“I can see that, I guess,” the man said.

“And contrary to what people might tell you,” I said, “you can get re-infected—more than once—and the effects of long-Covid are only now beginning to be realized.  The consequences of ignoring simple precautions like masking can be awfully severe.”

“So how long are you going to keep wearing the mask?”

I shrugged.  “How long are you going to refuse?”

He shrugged, too, the tiny grin returning.  “Until the facts convince me it’s best to wear one, I guess.”

“Same here,” I said, rising to join my wife who I’d spied coming out of a store, bags in hand.  “I’ll wear it until the facts tell me it’s not needed anymore.”

The man waved farewell.  “Thanks for the TED talk,” he grinned cheerfully. 

“My name’s not Ted,” I said, and we both laughed again.

As I walked away, I heard him start to cough.

Virus Redux

In 1993, the film Groundhog Day made its debut, a comedy about a cynical weatherman who is forced to relive his day over and over in an endless loop while covering the Punxsutawney Phil event on 2 February.

Punxsutawney Phil. of course, is the legendary groundhog who emerges from his den on that date every year, and if he can see his shadow, it means we’ll be having six more weeks of winter.  If the groundhog casts no shadow, it’s a harbinger of early spring.

Over the years there have been several generations of Punxsutawney Phil, just as there have been for some of his less-famous but esteemed brethren—Wiarton Willie, Jimmy the Groundhog, Dunkirk Dave, and Staten Island Chuck, to name a few.

There are two things I find surprising about this whole groundhog mania.  The first is that so many people appear to give credence to the animals’ weather forecasts year after year, despite an absolute lack of evidence to back them up.

If Phil or his brethren see their shadows, meaning six more weeks of winter, we are told spring will arrive on or about mid-March.  But in all my life in Canada, during nine decades from the 1940s to the 2020s, I have never seen an end to winter that early.

Conversely, if the groundhogs do not see their shadows, that portends an early spring, presumably sooner than mid-March, which I have also never seen.  I give more credence to the old adage proclaiming that if March comes in like a lamb, she’ll go out like a lion, and vice-versa.

In my experience, the groundhogs’ either/or dichotomy is a neither/nor.

The second thing that surprises me about Groundhog Day is that so many of the same people who rely on the animals’ weather advice pay no attention to medical advice from virologists, epidemiologists, and research scientists with respect to the Covid pandemic that has swept the world.

These people refuse to be vaccinated against the disease, despite knowing the success of vaccines against many other diseases—diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, smallpox, and yellow fever.  They cite a host of reasons for their opposition, such as—

  • the vaccines are experimental,
  • they alter a person’s DNA,
  • they use a live version of the coronavirus,
  • they contain a chip, or cause recipients to become magnetic, and
  • they cause fertility problems.

In fact, the virus that causes Covid-19 is related to other coronaviruses that have been studied for years, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).  They were not developed quickly.  

According to the US Center for Disease Control, none of the vaccines interact with anyone’s DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid); rather, they help the cells build protection against infection, but never enter the nucleus of the cell where the DNA lives.

None of the authorized vaccines use the live virus that causes Covid-19, and cannot give you the disease or cause you to test positive for an infection. Instead, they train the human body to recognize and fight the coronavirus by delivering a set of instructions to your cells to encourage your body to produce antibodies, or by using a harmless adenovirus that can no longer replicate to send a genetic message to your cells.

Contrary to rumours on social media, the vaccines do not contain metals or materials that produce an electromagnetic field.  They are also free from manufactured microelectronics, electrodes, carbon nanotubes, or nanowire semiconductors, as well as from eggs, gelatin, latex, and preservatives.

According to the CDC, there is no evidence that any inoculations, including the Covid-19 vaccines, cause fertility problems in women or men; in fact, vaccination is recommended for people who are breastfeeding, pregnant, or plan to get pregnant in the future.

Contrary to the trolls who perpetuate these myths—falsehoods so many people are duped into believing—virologists and epidemiologists do know how to bring this pandemic under control.  Covid-19 is an airborne disease that spreads mainly from person to person when an infected person—even one with no symptoms—emits aerosols when (s)he talks or breathes.  These infectious, viral particles float or drift in the air for up to three hours or more, allowing another person to breathe them in and become infected.

According to Harvard Medical School authorities and other experts, necessary steps to control the spread include—

  • getting vaccinated and boosted,
  • avoiding close contact with people who are infected,
  • wearing a properly-fitted face mask when in public indoor spaces,
  • avoiding large gatherings, even outdoors, especially if poorly-ventilated,
  • isolating if sick,
  • testing frequently if unavoidably in congregant settings, in order to prevent spread to others, and
  • engaging in contact-tracing efforts.

It is mind-boggling to me that so many of us wilfully ignore this informed advice from medical experts in favour of opinions from quacks and trolls.  Since 2019, we have been through four successive waves of Covid-19, each version morphing from its predecessor, yet many of us continue to resist the best medical advice in favour of others’ quackery.

My parents taught me early about the futility of doing the same things over and over again in any endeavour, and hoping for a different result.  They also taught me to listen to those who are knowledgeable, as opposed to those who are merely loud, to weigh what they are saying, and to make an informed decision based, not on emotion, but on logic and empirical evidence.

Alas, so many seem doomed to spend one endless Covid-19 Groundhog Day after another, wallowing in their own ignorance.  And that hurts all of us.

Virus redux.