I think the pandemic is putting a new spin on the Golden Rule: I protect you, you protect me. Messages from government and science may change as the situation evolves, but it all comes down to the simple principle of containment. Our personal hygiene and public behavior have impact in ways we are just beginning to understand. Disease is spreading so fast on such a large scale that it has become obvious many of us are carriers, even if we’re not sick. That’s why we isolate at home. That’s why we wear facemasks in public. We wear masks to protect others. Washing our hands and keeping them away from our face is the best way to protect ourselves. But my facemask protects you.
I have seen changes in containment strategies in my own neighborhood. Weeks ago I went to the hardware store to buy a bag of dirt for house plants, imagining a pleasure cruise through the garden department. Instead, I was greeted in the parking lot and instructed to stand on a yellow X spray painted on the sidewalk, where I was to wait six feet from the next shopper for a salesclerk to fetch my purchase from inside the store. Signs on the glass doors explained that no customers would be allowed inside as a way of protecting employees from exposure. Yet the salesclerk stood right beside me as we scrolled through an app on his cell phone to review the merchandise selection. Neither of us were wearing facemasks.
On the way home, still craving some kind of psychological lift from shopping, I drove to my local gourmet grocery store for chocolate. Inside the store I had a sudden cough and I panicked, pulling the hood of my coat over my face to contain my spray. I felt like a criminal. Coughing into my elbow just wasn’t enough of a barrier. I was really hacking. Am I infected? Or did I just suck a bit of saliva down my windpipe? I couldn’t answer that question at the time. Now weeks later, I can say it was a freak cough, and I feel like I should have been wearing a facemask in the store because I could have been carrying the virus.
Last Friday I went to the supermarket for one last load of food. I wore a pink bandana over my face, tucked into my coat collar, held against my nose with my glasses. It made me feel like I was doing the right thing by catching my spray of wet breath before it could land on someone else. People gave me the hairy eyeball. I saw only one other shopper and one store employee with facemasks in a store filled with dozens of people.
Our understanding of how to stop the spread of the virus is uneven, some people are just learning, some are still unbelievers. There is scientific evidence that homemade cotton facemasks are effective in blocking respiratory droplets from escaping our nose and mouth into the air around us. Given the dire predictions, any improvement in the rate of transmission equates to lives saved. The heightened awareness of the fabric wrapped around my head is training my hands not to touch my face, and because I made my own mask, I’m not competing with healthcare workers for medical masks. It may look weird to you, but I’m wearing this cut up t-shirt for your protection. I protect you; you protect me. Please.
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