Wearing the face mask

I had an appointment for a routine blood test yesterday. It went smoothly with no problems. On the day before my appointment, the doctor’s office called with a list of routine screening questions about whether or not I was feeling ill, if I had a cough or fever or other symptoms, and the like. I received instructions to wear a face mask and to call the office from my car when I arrived. I checked in with the receptionist over the phone and waited in my car for a few minutes before they called me to come into the building. I had my temperature taken at the door and the phlebotomist met me at the door. I was out of the building within about 10 minutes. I wore a mask the whole time.

Later, I made a quick stop at the hardware store to pick up a few bolts for a project I have going at home. The clerk, who knows me well, had to ask my name for the store’s customer loyalty program. She then apologized for not recognizing me. I teased her saying that now not only does she have to memorize the names of all of her customers, but also learn to recognize them when wearing masks.

That got me to wondering about a couple of things. What happens to people who are feeling sick? Are they not allowed to have routine medical care? In the past, I’ve go to my doctor’s office because I had a cough. Now it seems as if they might not let someone with a cough into the building. I know that the would refer a patient to a testing station, where you can get a test without leaving your car. But the screening raises a question.

And, at the hardware store. I presume that they still ask people for identification when they write a check, but how does a store clerk verify identity when the driver’s license has a picture of a person not wearing a mask and the person in front of them is wearing a mask? Do they have you pull down your mask to reveal your face when purchasing alcohol at the grocery store?

This morning I have an appointment to renew my driver’s license. It says that it expired on my birthday, but the governor ordered an extension of all drivers licenses when the pandemic shut down the examination stations in March. There have been very few appointments available for renewal, but I managed to get this one by checking every day back in June, when they announced that they were opening the examination stations on a limited basis. I will, of course, wear a mask to my appointment, but I presume they have you remove the mask for the picture.

Are they having people remove their masks when they approach the TSA screener at the airport? That person has a serious job of confirming the identity of every traveler.

As we adjust to this new reality, I suspect that face masks are here to stay. Even after there is a vaccine for this particular virus and we have moved on to other crises, I suspect that we will get out our masks whenever we are experiencing a cough or other symptoms that might be easily spread to others. Wearing masks in public was common in Japan when we visited there. I don’t think that there was any argument or controversy about the practice. It was just assumed that if you had symptoms, you would wear a mask and if you had a particular vulnerability, you would wear a mask. I assume that people keep a supply of disposable masks on hand as a part of every first aid kit.

We have a small supply of disposable masks at our house, but we are using cloth masks for everyday wear. They can be washed and reused. It is not unlike other disposable products. I’ve occasionally seen discarded masks in parking lots and other locations. I am usually quick to pick up trash and get it into the nearest container, but I’ve hesitated with face masks. Who knows what exposure they might present. If I put on a pair of disposable gloves to pick up a mask am I just adding to the amount of disposable waste? Should masks and gloves be disposed of in specially marked biohazard containers?

There will continue to be lots of questions as we learn the proper way to behave in the face of this new realty.

Meanwhile, somehow, wearing or not wearing a face mask has become a political expression in our country. The attitude towards masks is a lot different here than in some other countries. In Washington, where we recently traveled, there is a statewide order that everyone should wear masks in all public buildings. Most stores have signs at the doors reminding customers that face masks are required. We simply complied. We were very careful as we traveled not to expose others or ourselves unnecessarily. But we saw a lot of people who weren’t wearing face masks. Practicing physical distancing and wearing face masks has been eschewed by some as a sign of fear and a restriction on their freedom. I don’t understand their position, frankly. Freedom always comes with responsibility. Freedom is not just freedom “from,” but also freedom “to.” I have the freedom to choose to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of a deadly virus. I have the freedom to refrain from unnecessary trips to stores.

The situation has placed store clerks in an uncomfortable position. The statewide orders, like the one in Washington, leave clerks in stores as the enforcers of the policy. It isn’t like there are enough state troopers to enforce the wearing of face masks. If the policy is to be effective, each business needs to become an enforcement agency. With all of the political division and rancor inner country today, business that enforce the policy my be driving customers away. They are already under financial pressure because of the virus, now they have to choose between the health and safety of their customers and employees and serving those who refuse to comply.

We are learning a new way of living and doing business, but the transition is difficult. The questions and challenges remain.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!