Wearing a facemask is by far the strangest, most ordinary, and most indelible part of the coronavirus pandemic. In the past couple weeks, I’ve finally habituated myself to putting a mask around my neck as I leave the house for work or errands or whatever, and pulling it up anytime I’m in a place where it’s required (work, Target, Imminent, Little Joy, the grocery store) or where it’s just a good idea (almost anywhere else). It’s still a little weird to have my face covered for so much of the day, but the weirdness fades a little every day.
The ubiquity of masks in my life and everyone else’s right now (even the lives of the covid-deniers!) contrasts sharply with their total absence before about March – except on the faces of a few Asian students or elderly people. From that standstill till now, about six months later, we’ve seen masks and mask culture expand into almost every facet of public life. They’re a big and interesting business now, for one things, available everywhere from Target or Walmart to Amazon or mom-and-pop shops to niche manufacturers or crafters. I must have about ten masks right now, a few handmade, some standard ear-loop mass-market, a couple high-end nearly-custom ones. (The last work the best.)
Masks are also a point of personal pride, civic duty, and political controversy. Places that have mandated masks teem with signs to remind people to wear them and why they should wear them. On social media, mask wearers talk about how they wear masks not for themselves, but for others. Covid-deniers reject the practice and the science and the responsibility, often conflating masks with some sort of social control by… someone: the government? doctors? Bill Gates? The logic escapes me, as does the resistance – wearing a mask is almost effortless! But at this crazed moment in American history, everything has to be charged to the highest possible pressure, and masks are no different.