The Corner

Health Care

On Masking in a Post-’Rona World

A woman wearing a face mask in the Times Square subway station during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in New York City, April 17, 2020. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

In response to The Pivot to Forever Masking Is Starting. Let’s Kill It with Fire

Phil writes:

One of the reasons why I have tried to avoid making the argument that we don’t mask during flu season, so we should not be masking for COVID-19 given that vaccines are widely available, is precisely that I was always worried that at some point, somebody would respond, “Well, we should be masking during flu season!” It seems that moment has arrived.

True, there are just a few people hinting at this argument now and there is no formal guidance. But given the kind of goalpost-shifting we’ve witnessed in the past 20 months, and the compulsion with keeping people in masks no matter the science, it’s pretty clear where this is leading.

It’s not 1oo percent clear to me from his Corner post, but I’m pretty sure that Phil is arguing against masking — and, especially, mask mandates — for the general public during cold or flu season. If that’s the case, then I agree with Phil.

But, as I’ve been saying since I first noted the rapid, noticeable increase in masking in lower Manhattan and, specifically, Chinatown in late February 2020, just a week or two before the ‘Rona achieved escape velocity and became a pandemic, I wouldn’t mind an entirely voluntary social norm developing whereby those who are sick, “feeling under the weather,” or “coming down with a cold” wear a mask for the benefit of the rest of us.

I should emphasize that I’m not proposing a legal mandate, wearing a mask while driving alone in one’s car, or while hiking in the woods with only God and the bears for company. (Let’s use some common sense, people!)

But I think a saner, less culture-war obsessed society ought to embrace mask-wearing in public if you think you’re sick and contagious. I’m no germaphobe (okay, maybe I’m a bit of one), but if you’re hacking up a lung on an airplane or the subway or while sitting next to me in algebra class, I’d prefer you wear a mask. That wouldn’t be safety or hygiene theater; that would just be good manners.


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