by Ryan Murphy
I still wear them - inside every public space, every day of this year. I’ve changed habits and routines to make it possible, and I can now survive a morning’s work without a boost of caffeine.
I have upgraded the quality of my masks as we’ve upgraded our understanding of their need. I’m thankful for the protection they provide.
I’m one of those folks you just won’t see without my mask.
But I really don’t like them.
If I were to poll New Brunswickers on their masking behaviours, answers would vary; on their masking enjoyment, likely all would agree.
But this isn’t about masks for masking’s sake. It’s about safety, and society, and our collective role in that society’s success.
Not-many-months ago, Public Health was for the public’s health; the collective well-being had not yet been delegated to individual responsibility. The majority were for protecting the “we” and not just the “me.”
Hospitals, and schools, and the medically vulnerable, were all - nearly unanimously - absolutely worthy of our collective protection.
But for some, that changed.
Whether they were tired of masking, or happy to be given governmental reprieve of their “all in this together” responsibilities, or content in a false sense of security from the vaccines only approach, or any number of other reasons - those reasons really don’t matter.
The point is the change.
For others, they did not have that option. They couldn’t find activities with acceptable risks, and they couldn’t experience a taste of the beforetimes.
They had neither the luxury nor the privilege to tempt COVID’s fate. And, although I can’t speak for those folks, I can sympathize and I can support.
I don’t have any particular risk factors beyond the general population.
But I do have a voice, that I’ve used - sometimes more than I should.
I do have a regular public audience, where I can demonstrate safe practices and stand with others who do the same.
I do have a love of learning, and of sharing what I’ve learned.
I do have above-average Googling abilities, and I do actually enjoy reading scientific papers.
But my lack of particular risk factors, or my general stubbornness to find accurate information, or my attempts to synthesize the latter into something for public consumption don’t really matter, either.
They don’t matter because I’m still in the “all in this together” stage of pandemic response, even when I’m the only one there.
I, like so many, learned the things we can all do to make the world a safer place for everyone - family, friends, strangers, and ourselves.
I can’t unlearn those things just because I’m tired of knowing them.
And I’ve taken the time to understand some of the many situations people might be experiencing. Are they all my experiences? No. Does that make them inappropriate, or invalid? Also no.
I accept that many people - good, caring, intelligent people - are experiencing the legitimate fear of SARS-CoV-2 and its ever-growing list of harmful effects. They are living in the heightened state of continuous worry so many of us felt in March 2020.
They don’t get to turn that off.
And neither do I. I don’t want to risk infection.
But I cannot imagine the guilt I would feel if I passed along a disease that killed a student’s grandparent.
I cannot imagine the guilt I would feel if I passed along a disease that seriously affected my months-old child’s quality of life.
So I mask - because I can.
And maybe that solitary masked student feels a little more empowered to protect their sick parent or elderly grandmother, or they become more confident in their understanding and mitigation of the risk.
So I filter the air, and open windows even when it’s cold, and monitor air quality - because I can.
And maybe that maskless student who tested positive yesterday doesn’t pass along an infection to their classmate whose baby brother just returned from the IWK.
And in this online world, where we don’t share air and can’t model habits, I use my words.
Not to lobby for eternal masking, but to care enough to keep each other safe. To lobby those with power over budgets and policies and planning committees to provide clean air for people to breathe.
Until the latter happens, the former is a cheap, minimally-taxing stopgap that literally keeps people alive.
And a lot of people can’t have it any other way.
Ryan Murphy is a New Brunswick teacher, father, and constituent of the incumbent premier. Two of those things bring him great joy. He is also an occasional writer - often inspired by online comment sections.
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