Today I attended a professional development session – that’s what schools call teacher training – for a summer session I’ll be teaching next week. I was very excited about it. After having been in lockdown for nearly 14 weeks, I was glad for a bit of routine instructing migrant kids from Mexico in June.
Of course, because these students had recently traveled from out of the country to Michigan, I assumed that we would have a slightly higher level of personal protection. But I was the only one who walked into the classroom with a mask on and many thoughts ran through my head.
Even though just us teachers and assistants were in attendance, I was quite disappointed. According to the science of masks, one would wear them to prevent spreading COVID-19 in case one carried the infection. I haven’t yet heard that wearing masks prevents you from catching it, which I assume is why people choose not to wear them. But they are missing the point, which is the first point I make here. You wear it to prevent from being a spreader of the virus.
The room was air-conditioned. The cool air was welcome, the morning was a warm 87 degrees and the day only got hotter. But I could not shake the idea that it was a closed environment, with nowhere for the particles from the breaths of others to go. Along with the lack of masks, the enclosed environment was the most obviously risky situation I had put myself in since March 14.
Luckily, for my nerves, the eight of us in the room automatically distanced ourselves well over 6 feet from each other as we waited for the facilitator. When she began the session, the first thing she said was, “Just so you know, the district’s policy is mask-wearing is your personal choice.” My disappointment turned to anger.
What is wrong with leadership? From the top down, why the heck don’t they simply mandate wearing masks?
Every time I walk into a grocery store and see people without them I think to myself that there should be some employee at the entrance who gives out masks, and that if you don’t take one, you can’t shop. Is that so hard? Is the reason they’re not imposing this healthy practice because scientists aren’t guaranteeing immunity from catching the coronavirus even if you wear one?
I think yes. I’m inclined to blame science. We live in an age where science is akin to the truth and this particular truth is not helping to prevent the new spikes of the pandemic across the country. Would it have been horrible for scientists to edit themselves for the good of public health so we did not now live in the midst of this crisis with half or more of the population behaving like the virus isn’t running amok?
I think no, this would not have been hard. If science exists for the betterment of mankind, then it is an utter failure for it to have so nonchalantly declared that wearing a mask will not keep you disease-free. Sure they said the other thing, but no one heard that. Instead, the words that stuck assured millions that non-compliance made no difference whatsoever.
And so here we are with new spikes of the disease brought back by young people who went to spring break like it was 2019. Today my newsfeed is filled with stories that read, “More than 200 people are advised to quarantine after possible COVID-19 exposure at a gym in Western Virginia,” according to CNN. In my own state, from The Detroit Free press: “76 coronavirus cases have been linked to one Michigan Bar.” CNBC reported that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention today warned that the country “has ‘way too much virus’ to control pandemic;” and the World Health Organization has declared that the pandemic is actually accelerating.
But none of this is resonating with people who are not wearing masks. They are only paying attention to the dangerous truth heard around the world: Masks do not guarantee non-transmission.
So here we are in a highly vulnerable world where airlines are now fully booking their flights. Thankfully, none of them will be flying to Europe any time soon, as the rest of the world has justifiably banned Americans from bringing COVID-19 to them. Good for them.
Now, if we can only be smart enough to do the same for ourselves. I personally am not going to stop wearing a mask. In fact, I’m going to wear a face shield and continue elbow bump only if I have to. Otherwise, it’s a friendly wave from a safe distance.
Honestly, there are no guarantees for just about everything. Every medicine, every vaccine, only offers the best chance at recovery. Short of anything that approximates a cure, we can only watch out for each other. So wear the darn mask.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.