When word came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that fully vaccinated Americans can finally safely do without masks in most places, I felt like one of those Japanese soldiers who spent years in hiding in the caves of Guam: I blinked in the sunlight, unable to believe that WWII was truly over.
“We feel naked,” First Lady Jill Biden said after arriving in West Virginia to promote the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, removing a mask to match her pink and white spring ensemble.
I know what she meant.
For over a year now, we have had masks on our faces – or ready to use on our entrance tables, in our glove boxes or buttoned up on our shirt fronts. I have become as attached to mine as Linus van Pelt was to his cover, and the thought of abandoning it is liberating but also unsettling. After all, this modest membrane could have saved my life.
But in recent weeks, the science on masking has become clearer: Real-world studies have shown that fully vaccinated people have virtually no chance of catching the virus, even when they are around unvaccinated people, and – just as important – just as little. chance to be asymptomatic carriers who can pass it on to others unintentionally.
This science, however, now collides with what has become cultural norms in many places. We’ve gotten used to our faces missing the bottom two-thirds – inside and out – and looking sideways at others with bare chins. Suddenly the proper line between safe and dangerous will no longer be as simple as the noses on our faces, and the responsibility of separating the compliant from the resistant will fall squarely – and surely at times angrily – on a range of businesses, institutions and organizations. other. private entities, instead of being obvious.
Already, authorities in mostly blue states and towns – like mine in Los Angeles – have announced they will take their time and review the CDC’s new guidelines before revising their own mask regulations.
It’s okay with me. When we moved from Washington to Southern California seven years ago – to a nearby neighborhood in the booming LA town of Koreatown – I was surprised, even a little annoyed, by the number of people walking their dogs with it. surgical masks. “What the hell are they wary of?” I said to myself. Now I know. The unusually low number of cases of the common flu this winter seems sufficient proof of the effectiveness of masks in curbing the spread of airborne viruses of all kinds.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like to wear a mask. I need bifocal glasses, and whatever I try – surgical tape, pinching the metal nose, even wearing the mask upside down – even the tightest mask confuses my glasses. They all wreak havoc with my facial recognition software. I cannot count the number of times I have failed to recognize friends and neighbors by the mere whites of their eyes.
I know a lot of those times were at the grocery store, my only usual place away from home for the past few months. No matter what the CDC’s advice, I know there is no way that I intend to disrespect Judy and Lily, my trusted ladies Gelson and their brave colleagues at the United Food and Commercial Workers. . For now, I’ll keep a supply of clean masks on hand in my car, along with reusable grocery bags and my customer reward number.
At this pivotal moment, it is far from clear whether our Covid-era masks will become faded relics like the yellowing WWII ration books of my parents’ childhood or the shelter instructions. fallout from mine. Will they be memories of a forgotten battle won or seasonal necessities to come out of each winter flu season, along with sweaters, galoshes and gloves? Too early to say.
For now, perhaps it is enough to be grateful for the privilege that the blinding achievements of science and the bittersweet sacrifices of millions of people have earned us. As President Biden said, “If you are fully immunized and can take off your mask, you have earned the right to do something Americans are known the world over: greet others with a smile. “