Masks: A Modest Proposal

We have seen with the new coronavirus how something very simple in itself can have devastating implications. Thus, what COVID-19 requires of every human being on Earth is "simply" to stay six feet or two meters apart from anyone else. But what havoc this has wreaked! I could not even count the ways, but they are now known to all of us, so I need not bother. From the global (world recession) to the intimate (no touching, please), we live in an entirely new world now.

This is much like a science fiction story, for a typical device in that genre is to change "just one" thing and then see what happens. For example, Philip Wylie's novel The Disappearance begins with the sudden vanishing of all women from the Earth. You can begin to imagine what would result, and Wylie does.

But who would ever have imagined the imperative to keep six feet apart from everyone else? Of course it does "follow" from the way contagious disease spreads. But even in Camus's classic novel The Plague, it is only the stricken who are segregated. The rest of life goes on as normal, albeit under an embargo and a fatalistic pall. And it affects only one city, not the entire human race. I suppose it is our more precise knowledge today that has mandated the more extreme response, since now we know that a contagious disease can be spread by the asymptomatic.

Just as "one simple thing" can change everything, however, sometimes one simple thing can remedy a horrific situation. In the case of the present pandemic, such a thing appears to be the mask. Although nobody knows for sure, and I certainly don't, my impression is that there is a near-consensus among the experts that ubiquitous mask-wearing would stop this virus in its tracks. Yes, there would need to be other precautions as well, such as washing hands after removing the masks (though maybe if we just added gloves to the mix we could even sidestep that). But masks are the key.

It's not that the mask protects the wearer (unless it is the expensive and inconvenient-to-wear variety) so much as that it protects others from what you exhale. But if you and the other person are both wearing a mask, then you are both protected. The quality, use, and care of the mask of course matter. But my understanding is that disposable surgical masks, used properly, would do the trick.

But try and find even these on the market today! ... and months into the pandemic as I write. It's hit or miss; and even when you find something online, you don't always know its provenance or quality.

Therefore it occurred to me: Wouldn't it have made vast sense, when the government sent out a stimulus check to every citizen of the U.S. of A. (complete with the president's name stamped on it) to have included also a box of government-approved disposable masks (and maybe disposable gloves with it)? The check was for $1200.00. A box of masks plus postage might cost the government $20 or $30. How could this not be at least as important as sending out those checks? Send out one box a month and the virus would be licked.

Note: All I would ask is that the president not have his face put on the masks (unless it's on the inside part that covers the nose) ... not if he really wants to make sure everyone wears them. It is important that people dispose of the masks only after they wear them! Or a compromise solution: Put the president's face on the outside of the masks sent to Republicans ... because otherwise they might not wear them! However, this would then raise the question of whether the president's picture would show him wearing the mask. Obviously it would not. And in fact, for the same reason, it is a fairy tale to suppose that my proposal, modest and sensible though it may be, will be implemented ... until we have a new president.


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