At work, I wear my “mask” (or rather, my homemade cloth face covering I picked up at Saint Vincent’s for $7 that stays on my face better than a bandana does) for you.
Yes, you — the Juneauite who might have visited my store, or interacted with someone who visited my store, or interacted with someone who interacted with someone who visited my store since the novel coronavirus officially arrived in our town. It’s well-established by now that wearing a mask doesn’t stop me from inhaling nasty little coronavirus particles that may be in the air I breathe. The only benefit I get from wearing my mask is the privilege of keeping my job so I can pay for my college education. If I refused to wear one, I wouldn’t be allowed to work. It’s that simple. And no, I’m not resentful.
Even if wearing a mask wasn’t required, I would still do it. Compared to the more dramatic and meaningful sacrifices others are making right now, covering my nose and mouth with cloth at work seems pretty paltry. Medical experts have told us that when you wear a mask, you wear one for everyone else. When we breathe, we send aerosols out, and those can carry the aforementioned nasty little coronavirus particles. According to medical experts, when we cough or sneeze, those particles can travel around 25 feet forward. A mask is a simple way for me to keep my aerosols and particles to myself, and for you to do the same. I understand that masks are uncomfortable. I wear one for eight hours a day, and it sucks!
My mask sometimes slips down on my nose, and makes it difficult to breathe. I have to work harder to project my voice and communicate with customers and my coworkers. Still, neither experience is even close to a good excuse not to wear a mask. If you only have to wear a mask on your grocery runs, consider yourself lucky. Retail workers wear masks all day for you, and the least you could do is give them the consideration of returning the favor. If you’re legitimately unable to wear a traditional cloth mask because of a medical condition, please, either take advantage of options for curbside pick-up or look into doctor-recommended alternatives to masks like face shields.
If a mask causes legitimate breathing problems for you, odds are you really don’t want to catch the coronavirus. If you aren’t wearing a mask as a political statement, I wonder if there are more important issues you could be raising your voice about right now. Police brutality and racism, for example, are dominating our national conversation.
Could you read a few books or articles about these topics, develop an informed opinion about them, and use your voice to address an issue that’s more pressing than “highly qualified scientists tell me that I, a responsible citizen, should wear a cloth face covering when I go out in public, but I don’t want to sacrifice my comfort for the greater good?”
And you might be pretty sure you don’t have the coronavirus, but we’ve established that that doesn’t mean much. America’s coronavirus case count is significantly deflated, in part due to the sheer number of asymptomatic carriers that have never been tested. Being an asymptomatic carrier isn’t uncommon. Not feeling sick, therefore, is a terrible excuse not to wear a mask. A negative coronavirus test isn’t an excuse to avoid a mask either. The test only tells you about your health status at the moment you took the test. It’s a record of a moment in time, and not a permanent “all clear.” It’s like deciding that because you haven’t broken your leg before, it’s impossible for you to break your leg in the future. It just doesn’t make sense. So please, Juneau, wear your mask. As case counts rise rapidly, it matters now more than ever — for you, for me, for the people we care about, and for our community.
• Keenan Miller lives in Juneau and works in retail. He will be attending Yale University in the fall.