Mask as Symbol

In my 19 years alive, I never would have expected a piece of fabric to be such an instigator of aggression and tension between people around me. If I was told a year ago that at work I’d have to attempt to calm down infuriated middle-aged customers after telling them they need to put a mask on, I’d find it ridiculous. And, it is ridiculous that that is now my reality.

N-95, cloth, bandana, surgical, and other reusable fabrics used to make face masks have become uncomfortably familiar vocabulary terms to us over the course of the year. As we navigate the nightmare that is wreaking havoc throughout the U.S., COVID-19, we simultaneously attempt to solve a nationwide feud over public health and personal freedoms.

The absence or presence of a mask has now become an indicator of political party affiliation, especially since Donald Trump has publicly expressed his disapproval of them. Between mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask at the political debate and claiming that Coronavirus is nothing more than a hoax, Trump has demonstrated to his supporters that the virus isn’t of importance to him, so it shouldn’t be to them either.

However, as of December 10, California has fallen under another regional stay at home order, due to the limited amount of space in ICUs across the five regions of California, which means that everything but critical infrastructure and retail will remain open. It’s another reminder that we are still in the midst of a pandemic and there is absolutely no excuse to fight measures that are put in place to protect us.

As an essential worker, I struggle to understand the fight against face masks, and to put it bluntly, I think it says a lot about you as a person. The bottom line is that if you are the type of person who wants to argue that your rights as an American citizen are being put on the line when you’re asked to simply cover your face, you need to reevaluate your personal values. From the perspective of a minimum wage worker, you are letting everyone know that their health is a lower priority than yours.

Your brunch can be rescheduled. Your parties can wait a little longer. Your workout can be adjusted and completed at home. All of these activities are nonessential, they are not worth the risk to your family, a stranger’s family, or your community.

Like everyone else, I am exhausted by the longevity of the pandemic, the constant anticipation of its progression; exhausted from adjusting to a completely new way of living. I personally don’t enjoy wearing a mask, and I don’t think I know anyone who could say they do either. But, we wear them to protect ourselves and others around us, to feel like we’re contributing to putting an end to this virus. If wearing a mask means that I believe in science, that’s fine with me. If it means that I’m making sure my at-risk family members stay in good health, then I’m proud of that.

Instead of dividing ourselves into groups of anti-maskers versus maskers, we should reconsider how we can help each other. A short grocery store trip with a mask should not be what you’re most afraid of. Consider the lives of those around you, at-risk or not, and ask yourself whether or not you want to be contributing to the overflow of people in ICUs around the state.

COVID-19 was never intended to be and never should have been shaped into the political conflict that it is today. The battle over masks isn’t one we can afford to have – and if it doesn’t end soon we will continue living through an endless cycle of regional shutdowns and face a more extreme political party divide than ever before.


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