Listen to the audio version of this post here.
My face is naked.
This would be no big deal in some parts of the country, where mask-wearing never took hold. Or for some people in other parts of the country, who resisted face-coverings, often vehemently, in spite of efforts to enforce their use.
For many of us though, wearing masks when we’re in public places has been part of the culture for two years now. We’ve dutifully, if not enthusiastically, covered our faces in grocery stores, offices, and entertainment venues. And of course, in restaurants, at least until we began eating.
We’ve accepted the considerable communication challenges.
- Not being able to hear clearly what others are saying to us.
- Repeating ourselves endlessly because they can’t understand us through the layer of cloth or non-woven fabric or electrostatic polypropylene fiber.
- Trying to read faces only half-visible. (Is that a smile behind the mask … or a smirk?)
Now, even here in blue Illinois, it’s official. We can finally free our faces.
Yes. Some of us are hanging onto those N-95s. And businesses are conflicted: how to keep customers happy now?
Some of those customers have no intention of taking off their masks, and would much prefer that others would follow their lead.
The Chicago Tribune says, “There’s some weariness for those who expect mask requirements to return in short order if cases once again spike. Some who are immunocompromised, or caring for ill family members, are frustrated and feel left behind. Some just feel weird without a mask on their face.”
Covid cases have dropped dramatically. The rate of new infections is a small fraction of what it was a couple months ago. Hospitalizations are way down, as are deaths related to the coronavirus. In terms of public health, it makes sense to ease up on the mitigation measures that were essential a short while ago.
And yet …
Some people are furious that the state has “completely disregarded the high-risk people.” They may have immune issues themselves, or they’re caring for someone who’s immunocompromised.
Or they have a child under five who can’t yet be vaccinated. Some of those young kids’ mothers are outraged at the “white male pundits and politicians” who are so eager to move on from the vax-rules and mask-mandates.
What’s a business to do?
Some are sticking with the status quo. The Trib quotes the manager of a Lakeview beer café. “We just don’t feel quite ready to part with a system that has worked to keep customers and staff safe and healthy these past few months that these mandates have been in place.”
They point to St. Patrick’s Day, right around the corner, when there could be a lot of people doing a lot of drinking in every Chicagoland establishment. Better safe than sorry about a wave of Covid, yes?
On the other hand, Frank and I met friends for dinner Saturday night. The restaurant had confirmed my reservation with a message: they required proof-of-vaccination and masks. When we walked into the suburban restaurant with our faces covered, the staff wasn’t wearing masks. I said, “I can take this off, right?” And I was delighted by their enthusiastic “Yes!”
It was interesting to watch how others reacted. Even though servers didn’t cover their faces, many diners kept their masks on until they began to eat or drink. And most of them put their masks back on when they left their tables.
It’s probably going to be like this for awhile, don’t you think?
Some of us will happily cast aside that face-covering, eager to smile at people again and to see their smiles too.
Others will be slower to mingle mask-free. They’ll keep wearing masks in public places. Some because they’re cautious about their own health, maybe at risk because of age or illness. Some out of concern for vulnerable family members. And for some, it’s just become a habit to put on a mask, and they’re slower to let it go.
What about us?
I admit to some concern about showing a face that’s aged by two years since we started all this. There was a certain comfort in covering those lines. I wish I could carry Zoom’s “appearance enhancement” feature around with me in real life.
Seriously, I’m all in for being able to breathe and talk and smile at the world. Mask-free is just fine with me.
At the same time, I’m not a jerk. If you and I get together, and your comfort is at stake, I will happily put on a mask to put you at ease. I don’t have any need to make an issue out of it.
If everyone had taken the same approach all the way long, we’d be in a much different place today, wouldn’t we?
I’ll look forward to your take on all this.
This quote really irritates me: “white male pundits and politicians”. It should be “pundits and politicians”. Are “some of those mothers” white or of “color”? My guess is that they are mentally shallow and easily led by the politicians trying to divide our population. And why, divide and conquer? Did our education system skip the I Have a Dream speech and the judge all men/people by the content of their character part? That’s what I learned as a child, at school and home. We learned that the outside color of a person may be different, but our insides are the same – at least I figured that as a young school girl many years ago. I wish we could get back to that.
It’s a fair point, Barb. One of the commentaries I read was calling out what the writer saw as “privilege,” singling out NYT’s David Leonhardt and a couple of other guys for what she saw as insensitivity. She said if they really understood what mothers of young children are going through, or people in communities where vax rates are low, they wouldn’t be so cavalier about shedding pandemic precautions.
This is a problem for many a business owner. I like Manny’s Deli’s approach. Staff will continue to wear masks while customers choose. Manny does not want staff doing ANYTHING that will make customer’s uncomfortable.
I appreciate that. After all…the mask ORIGINALLY was said to be for protecting OTHERS. Not self.
I haven’t had either COVID or OMICRON and hope to keep it that way.
So, I appreciate when a business takes that into consideration.
It may be a while before my mind can wrap itself around a mask-less outing.
AND…it’s a great excuse to really listen while making eye contact!
It’s true about masking and eye contact, Karen. Covering half our faces has only increased the importance of really looking at each other.
I’m so curious about how offices handle this, as they bring people back to Work From Work at least some of the time
Thank you for writing this.
As someone who has health issues and would like to stay healthy and out of very stressed health system in my area of the country, I feel masking is such a simple act to protect those with fragile health and our health care workers. The rates are also still high in my area so this makes this even more frustrating.
I know a good number of people who are also not a jerk, and agree that safety and comfort level comes first. So masking is easy enough to do to be considerate. Not everyone feels this way and because of this our family did spend a Thanksgiving apart and I have had direct reports say to me they feel the work environment will not be inclusive but divisive.
Catherine, I could agree more with your statement, “If everyone had taken the same approach all the way long, we’d be in a much different place today, wouldn’t we?”
If we had done the masking early in this then we would not be where we are today, I truly believe that.
Yes, a lot of things would have been different if we’d handled masking–and vaccination too–differently along the way. It’s been such an interesting study, watching how people have responded to all of it. Who would have expected normal-seeming people screaming at each other in school board meetings and grocery stores? We’ll be studying this for a long time.