I was adjusting my face covering when I entered the pizza shop.
“You don’t need that,’’ a loud male voice said to me from behind the counter. “You’re not going to die.’’
This sarcastic restaurant worker was not wearing a mask himself, of course, and neither was the cashier. They were not wearing gloves, for that matter.
I was the only customer in the place, just stopping by to get a takeout pizza, but I certainly wasn’t going to shed my mask. I’m in an age group where I don’t want to test the odds of infection with COVID-19. But to be hassled about it?
Leaving that shop, I made sure to wipe down the pizza box, top and bottom and sides. Then I rubbed a glob of sanitizer into my hands. Welcome to the pandemic in the Panhandle.
My wife and I were taking very careful measures as we got out of Atlanta for a quick, impromptu beach vacation on the Gulf of Mexico in northwest Florida.
We were doing largely the same things we do around home, except for the occasional walk with sand under our feet.
We picked a fairly isolated beach. We brought along plenty of hand sanitizer, lots of disinfectant wipes and a supply of masks, with a leftover N95 respirator mask mixed in with more disposable coverings. We were adhering to social distancing at all times, avoiding elevators with passengers. We wiped down surfaces frequently. And we brought plenty of food.
But obviously, not the pizza.
Based on our casual observation, metro Atlanta seemed to have more mask-wearing than the towns we passed through in Alabama and Florida. Inside a convenience store at a large truck stop complex in Alabama, we were the only people wearing masks. I’m told the situation is much the same in some rural towns in Georgia.
A poll in mid-May found that a large majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, say they have worn a mask in public throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. More than four out of five Americans – 84 percent – said they had worn a mask in public in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, according to a survey from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape Project.
Maybe, with the reopening of America, people have been slacking off a little on face coverings. Or maybe it was just the areas that we drove through.
On the other hand, most shoppers in grocery stores we visited wore face coverings.
Interestingly, the use of masks is not universal even in medical settings. We found that out on the trip.
During our stay, my wife went to an urgent care facility because of a minor ailment. (Not COVID-19). A sign on the clinic door told patients to call a number first before entering, but she noticed other people walking in unannounced, and she did so, too.
There were two clerks behind the desk: One wore a mask and the other didn’t.
The clerical staff was one thing. But my wife was startled when a woman in blue scrubs came to take her to the exam room. She wasn’t wearing a mask either.
The woman took my wife’s height and weight, then went to take her temperature.
My wife stopped her. “Will you wear a mask?” my wife asked.
“If you want me to,’’ came the reply.
Later, a physician assistant at the facility told my wife that it was their policy to have all staffers wear masks. “Maybe she forgot,’’ he said of the woman who took my wife’s vital signs.
At least he was wearing a mask.
Last week, Emory physicians, somewhat to my surprise, said wearing a mask isn’t a requirement for Emory medical personnel. But it is highly recommended, said Dr. Colleen Kraft, associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital.
“We really feel like there’s an aspect of protection,’’ and it reminds the wearer of social distancing, Kraft said. “It’s a pretty small intervention that I think has a lot of yield.”
A rural Georgia physician said mask wearing isn’t required in her practice, either. “It’s a source of contention among health care workers,’’ the doctor said. “We cannot entirely control the actions of others.’’
Over the past month, media reports have noted that the decision to wear a mask in public has become a political or social statement for some people.
The mask is increasingly a symbol of the debate between those willing to follow health officials’ guidance and cover their faces versus those who feel it violates their freedom or signifies a danger that they think is overblown, the Associated Press reported. The mask is now a political and cultural flashpoint, underscoring the polarization afflicting every corner of American life, the AP added.
Such polarization benefits no one. I’m sure it’s counterproductive for people wearing masks to snap at people who are not wearing them.
Gov. Brian Kemp took a sensible approach last week as he extended the state of emergency in Georgia. “We strongly encourage all Georgians and visitors to wear face coverings in public to help mitigate viral spread,‘’ he said.
“We don’t have a mandate for anybody to wear a mask,“ Kemp said. “Wearing a mask helps you or me from spreading the virus if we happen to have it. If you’re wearing a mask, you’re protecting other people.’’
He wasn’t making a political statement. It’s about protection – and a sense of security amid the chaos of COVID-19.
There’s a big difference between a cloth mask and a surgical/medical mask such as an N95. Medical masks can do more to protect the wearer from infection, which is why they are used in health care settings.
In any case, health experts say, mask wearing should be done in conjunction with social distancing.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told CNN that he is encouraging Americans to wear masks. “I wear it for the reason that I believe it is effective,” Fauci told CNN. “It’s not 100 percent effective. I mean, it’s sort of respect for another person, and have that other person respect you. You wear a mask, they wear a mask, you protect each other.”
In other words, it can save lives.