Disclaimer: To mask, or not to mask? That is the question … that I will not be addressing in this column. I’m just here to talk about the masks.
There are many different kinds of face masks you can use during this coronavirus pandemic. Pick your poison:
• Disposable paper ones. These are the ones that will make you look like you belong on the set of “General Hospital.” Put one on to live out your fantasy of being a dashing doctor, out to save the world. But keep your hands off the scalpels—it’s just pretend.
• P100 masks. Not to be confused with the N95 ones, which are reserved for health care workers, the P100 masks are the kind you use in the shop when you’re sanding boards or working with noxious chemicals. They have two canisters that jut out, one on each cheek, to filter air and make the wearer look like a Darth Vader wannabe. This may be the most efficient face mask of all, but you have to actually wear it to reap its benefits. It takes a hardy soul to board an airplane or show up to a board meeting sporting a P100 respirator mask.
• Hand-sewn fabric ones. With a variety of patterns and styles calling for ties made of elastic, ribbons, or cannibalized T-shirts, fabric face masks afford the greatest opportunity for personal expression. They also provide a creative outlet for people who can sew (please don’t call us “sewers”) who need something useful to do. Cloth face masks are a fabric hoarder’s dream. They require very little fabric per mask, so if you have bags and bags of fabric scraps like I do, you can pretty much open a small business with no cost for materials. I’ve been sewing a lot of cotton face masks lately. I’ve made masks for all my kids, just like I used to make their Christmas jammies. Making cloth face masks to ward off a killer pandemic is not quite as cozy and delightful as crafting cuddly Christmas jammies, but it is satisfying to mix and match colors and designs for distinctive masks.
• Clear face shields. I saved these for last, because they fall into a different category altogether. They’re essentially a piece of clear plastic that encircles your face without actually touching or obscuring any part of it. If you ever wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, clear face shields are for you. They have great protective possibilities. While I wouldn’t count on one to deflect rubber bullets, it would probably serve you well in a water gun fight. Attach a length of mosquito netting, and you can ward off germs and pesky bugs with the same ultra-cool device.
Regardless of the kind you choose, there are some well-known drawbacks to wearing a face mask. I could go on and on about the inconvenience of glasses fogging up, the disappointment when your mask doesn’t coordinate with your outfit, or the subtle loss of societal friendliness when you can’t see another person’s smile. But there are some surprising benefits to wearing a face mask that don’t get a lot of press, mostly having to do with hiding. I’m not talking about hiding your identity during the commission of a crime. There are a lot of things that the law-abiding person might want to hide with a face mask.
You might be coming back from lunch after enjoying chicken Florentine, and you have that moment of self-consciousness, wondering if you’re going to embarrass yourself with a bit of spinach stuck between your teeth. Never fear! No one can see your teeth, even when you smile. Or you might be growing a beard, stuck in that in-between time when you’ve got more than stubble and less than a lush beard and mustache. You don’t need to field snarky remarks about your hair-growing prowess. Simply cover your chin with a generous mask and keep on growing that beard under wraps. Or you might have given up on said beard and shaved it all off, only to find that you cut yourself shaving in half a dozen places. No need to be seen in public with a chin covered with tiny bits of tissue. Your handy face mask hides all evidence of your slip up. Braces, acne, chapped lips, a new tongue piercing—there are lots of things a person might want to hide. Just don’t use a clear face shield for your cover up needs—you will be disappointed by the result.
Whether you want to make a fashion statement, live out a childhood fantasy, or merely engage in a visual cover-up, there’s a face mask out there for you.
• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.