There are few groups that have been as widely mocked and vilified in the media during this COVID-19 pandemic as anti-maskers: angry gangs of ignorant yahoos and assorted scofflaws who decry the pandemic as a Chinese hoax and who just want to party or go to church without Big Brother telling them to wear a “face diaper” or in any way limit their freedoms of speech and association.
Much of this sneering contempt for the unmasked is well deserved, though I have some sympathy for those among them whose lives have been more than just disrupted by the impact of serial lockdowns. I find much less has been said, however, about a group I think of as the double-maskers: the officious and righteous who use the cover of fear as an excuse to act like idiots and jerks.
A lot of blame has to be laid on the media, which gets the currency of attention by beating the drum of fear. Every day begins with reports of new risks we can’t afford to ignore and new precautions we need to take. The latest of these has been the call to double mask. This struck me as overkill, a feeling I had no reason to change after hearing Dr. Fauci on the subject: “if you use common sense and say, until we get the data, if a physical barrier with one mask works, it makes common sense that two layers or three layers — and you should have a double layer mask in one mask anyway — but if you want to put an extra mask on, there’s nothing wrong with that. . . . We can’t formally recommend it because we don’t have the science behind it. But I would not hesitate to tell someone if they want to wear two masks.” Hm. So no science, but it can’t hurt. Fauci himself wears two masks, but only because he likes the way they fit.
Another example of overkill are the social distance police in grocery stores. If everyone is wearing masks already and there is no physical contact, what are the chances of your getting infected by just walking past someone? And yet I’ve seen people yelling at other people to “stand back six feet!” Or getting angry because you walk down an aisle the wrong way. Most grocery stores now have aisles for which directions are indicated and I’ve never understood what the purpose of them is. I mean, in the first place there’s usually only two or three people in an aisle anyway, most often stopped and turned toward one or the other side. Second: what difference does it make if someone passes you in the aisle from behind as opposed to passing you going in the opposite direction? Why do people get exercised over this?
I’m sure there’s a common-sense middle ground. Every day I walk through a park where a group of people meet so that their dogs can run and play together. There’s usually anywhere from 5 to 10 people, including a couple of small children. People stand a little bit apart. Maybe six feet. Nobody wears a mask, though I’m sure they all do whenever or wherever one is required (as do I). And everyone is friendly and sociable. I know most of them and have never heard of any of them getting sick. Meanwhile, the people who (literally!) run away from you on the street, or who go into fits in the grocery store just strike me as so many bitter and anti-social assholes. A month or so ago I was walking toward one woman on a sidewalk and she scrambled in a panic through a snowbank to get away, tripping and sprawling awkwardly into the street. I was amazed and disturbed at the performance. People like this are deeply disturbed. I also suspect most of them are total hypocrites and don’t follow “the rules!” nearly as strictly as they expect other people to. Then again, a contractor I know told me that at one house he’d been hired to finish a basement in the owner had refused to allow his assistant to enter, which resulted in a doubling of the quoted price for the work to be done. Why? Both workers would have been wearing masks and gloves when in the house, and the contractor and his assistant shared a “bubble” so allowing the one in the house but not the other made no sense. But like the woman falling into the street, panic and anger had taken over.
The depressing conclusion I’ve come to is that between the anti-maskers and the double-maskers, and I know people in both camps, I actually like the anti-maskers a little better. They’re crazy (one of them I’m friends with honestly believes COVID-19 was developed by Bill Gates as a method of population control), but you can at least talk to them about other things and they seem, on balance, to be a lot less angry than the people who are going into hyperanxious, paranoid meltdowns and looking to phone the police every time they look out the window. The anti-maskers may be a bigger health threat, hating government and the medical establishment, but the double-maskers strike me as hating their neighbours, which I think is worse. Put another way: anti-maskers are nuts, double-maskers are nasty.
The other depressing thought I have has to do with the oft-asked question of what things will be like when people start getting vaccinated. How will these double-maskers ever get back to “normal”? Their special reality now seems rooted so deep in anger and fear I don’t think they’ll ever be able to pull back out. They’re mean and sad, and there’s no vaccine for that.