Mask mandates are being lifted almost everywhere. Major cities like New York and San Francisco (though not Chicago) are lifting their indoor mask mandates. Many governors are no longer requiring masks to be worn in schools. I was at the Super Bowl in Los Angeles — a city that has been as avid about mask wearing as any in the country — and found mask wearing not just inconsistent, but not particularly fretted about by much of anyone. The numbers from Omicron have fallen dramatically, and with no variant currently looming, people are relaxing. I think it’s OK to relax a bit. That doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. But the whole point of having restrictions is that you can lift them when circumstances change. Circumstances have changed. I think it’s probably time.
There may be more variants down the line, and we’ll all have to adjust accordingly, but it’s also possible that we’ve turned a corner in the pandemic, to the point that the masks don’t go back on, at least in mandated form. It’s very possible this is what we were waiting for.
If it is, though, I’m not sure I’m throwing all my masks away. Like a lot of people, I’ve noticed that while wearing masks over the last two years, I’ve been a lot less sick than I usually am — fewer colds, no flus, generally positive health. There are a lot of germs out there! I’m not going to wear masks all the time — it’s OK, I believe, to understand their utility and still admit that they are annoying to wear — but there are times I’ll probably stick with them. When will I keep my mask, even if I don’t have to? Here are some spots.
Flights: Of all the things that will stick from the pandemic, I suspect mask wearing on planes will be one of them. I doubt the federal government will keep mandates in perpetuity, if just to get us back to that sense of “normalcy,” but you’re going to see a bunch of your fellow travelers wearing masks on planes probably for the rest of your life. I’ll be one of them. Wearing a mask will keep germs in a small, cramped area out of my breathing area, and, perhaps just as important, make it more likely that you don’t talk to me on the plane. I’m just trying to read and listen to music here.
Grocery stores: This is more a matter of hygiene than anything else. There’s a lot of open food there, and a lot of people in tight spaces, and frankly, this is another place I’d rather people not to talk to me and masks are a good way to signal that. I’m starting to sense a pattern here.
Buffets: This is an obvious one, and if your first response here is, “why are you eating buffets anyway, gross?” well, someone didn’t grow up in a town where the Ponderosa buffet was the best thing going, apparently.
Public transportation: This feels more a matter of common courtesy, really: There aren’t many places that illustrate “thrown into close proximity with strangers out of pure necessity” better than a subway or a bus. Also: Another place you don’t want people to talk to you!
Hospitals: My mother was an ER nurse for 30 years, and there was nobody more nonplussed by wearing masks than my mom. “You wear masks so you don’t get sick and don’t get other people sick,” she said in the very first days of the pandemic. “It’s not complicated.” It really isn’t.
Am I missing anywhere? The pandemic has changed life on this planet, probably forever, in many ways. Occasionally people still wearing masks, all told, seems like one of the more minor ones.