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September 18, 2020

Window on the World Column: The Masked Truth

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

I had been looking forward to 2020. At Solace, we were going to be empty nesters for the first time ever, work seemed positive, we had lovely trips planned — places to go and people to see, both here and abroad. I’m not ordinarily a fan of New Year with all her fireworks and chaos, but this year — I have to say — I did feel a glimmer of hope in the “Auld Lang Syne” and the prospect of a better year than I’ve had in a while.

My friend and I were in San Francisco in early January, as we are wont to do. It is by far the best time to visit that popular spot and the winter sales in the shops are pretty good too for avid shoppers such as ourselves. We stayed in a nice hotel off Union Square and remarked to each other how, everywhere we went, so many Asian people were wearing masks. “Must be in preparation for a bad flu season!” we noted. Little did we know what was going on in that part of the world and how quickly it was headed for ours.

Early March and everything was going south in the world, such as our generation had never experienced before. Businesses were closing, people stopped traveling and moving around — there was an air of near panic in the planet. The virus was raging out of control in some areas of the globe and starting to make a huge impact in others. My friend and I went to have a massage and lunch to celebrate her birthday and we understood that the massage therapy salon would be closing after that day indefinitely. There was an under-riding feeling of unease — near fear — of what was really going on and what could possibly happen next. We had a good day, but distinctly felt as if that might be our last day of free living for a while. This turned out to be true.

April is a blur of shutdowns, lockdowns and whatever other kind of down we might describe. My family was also down in a different way since my husband was not well and his condition did not look like an easy fix. Fortunately, my sister was able to rescue my father from London right before borders closed and she took him over to her island in the middle of the Irish sea, which, in retrospect, was the best thing ever. He would have been so vulnerable and afraid on his own in London. That would have created the most unthinkable nightmare — her stranded on an island and me on lockdown over here, with father doing his best to manage on his own. I was so grateful for her intervention.

My planned customary trip to England in May to celebrate my Dad’s 91st birthday was canceled — not by me, but the airline. In all the years I have lived in the U.S., this had never happened to me. Even after 9/11, the airlines were only grounded for a short while and then routes resumed. This did not happen in 2020. People were staying at home, leaving only for necessities; whole fleets of planes were grounded. The looting of the grocery stores for basic essentials was absolutely insane. At the beginning of the stay-at-home order, I was naïve and couldn’t understand why the shelves in our local store were so empty. I’d never seen that before in America, the land of uber-plenty.

“Oh, it’s the Corona,” the cashier commented casually. Toilet paper, paper towels, wet wipes and hand sanitizer became coveted items that you simply could not find. It really was the most bizarre time. We went from the luxury of a free society with ample everythings to a state of lockdown where toilet paper was a precious commodity and wet wipes rationed.

Then it became clear that this virus was affecting every part of life in every part of the globe and this was a situation to take seriously. It was not going to just go away; we would likely be dealing with the pandemic and its repercussions for some time to come and definitely until a proven vaccine was in place. We, as a people, had to become more cautious and pro-active to protect ourselves, our families and the rapid spread throughout the planet.

We needed to stay at home as much as possible and away from other people. If we went out, we were to put masks on and exercise extreme caution in our sanitary habits. Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands. This seemed like a very smart thing to do and I was happy to see the signs on businesses advising that masks were mandatory for entry. (It did seem a little strange, going into a bank with a mask on, but these were the new laws.) I did not feel as if my personal freedoms were being violated, I did not question the science or the common sense of any of it.

I purchased masks of different styles and colors to be able to coordinate with outfits and situations. I especially like the gaiter style you can just pull up from your neck over your nose and mouth. And then, in all the chaos of this world pandemic, I see that masks are becoming a political issue. What the? Some people feel that they should not be told what they can and cannot do in a free society; I get that to a point. But we have never experienced such a violent and aggressively contagious virus in our world — the numbers and the science speak for themselves.

I fail to understand anything sensible that would make mask-wearing a political hot potato. I shall wear one for as long as it is mandated in our communities and likely beyond, when I am able to travel again away from my home. It is just the smart thing to do — for my own well-being, as well as others’. I try my best to stay well and healthy and virus free, but just like other inflictions, there is no telling who is going to be its next victim and I know better than to think I might be somehow excused.

Please, people. Just wear a mask. Make it part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth or putting on clothes. If we can flatten the curve, we can then re-discover all the freedoms that we have had to set aside these past few difficult months. We will so much appreciate all of those liberties once we have them again; but for now, it’s lock yourselves down as much as you can and be sensible. The science and the numbers don’t lie! Please, mask up.

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