Living in Society

Masking in the United States

Baggage Handlers at Orlando International Airport, June 27, 2021.

I recently flew to Florida to help someone move to the Midwest, my first non-local trip since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. We convoyed from central Florida to Chicago, following major interstate highways all the way. Evidence that the coronavirus pandemic had resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people–the most of any nation on Earth–was scant.

The airline enforced a mask policy both in the terminals and on board the aircraft. Hotels where we stayed had well-publicized policy that masks were required indoors and social distancing was necessary. None of the hotels enforced the policies for guests. Compliance was infrequent among staff. All of the other workers we encountered–at truck rental facilities, convenience stores, and restaurants–wore no masks at all. The restaurant delivery drivers all donned masks as they approached us to deliver a meal. Their business is predicated on no-contact delivery during a pandemic, so that was expected. In a Walmart in Indiana about two-thirds of the employees wore masks. The business community seems more interested in avoiding liability while catching up on lost revenue than in preventing spread of the coronavirus.

As far as regular, non-working humans go, few wore masks. In Florida (outside the airport), Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky I saw zero humans with a mask. That changed when we arrived at our destination in a Chicago suburb.

After the maskless trip from the South, I was pleasantly surprised by the neighborhood where people wore masks indoors and out. I asked one person why they wore a mask outside. They said they were vaccinated and the mask was to prevent contracting variants of the coronavirus that are currently thriving. Made sense to me.

I walked across the street to a local grocery store in which most people were masked, including all the employees. Disposable masks were available for $0.99 at the checkout counter. Not required for customers, yet available.

From the beginning of the trip I asked masked people if I should don mine in their company and the answer was a unanimous no. A couple of masked workers in a local Chicago bakery explained it best. They said I didn’t need to don my mask in their store. Customers would be inside for a short duration, however, they wore a mask because they would spend all day at the counter. This, too, made sense.

While settling into the new apartment a neighbor knocked on the door to introduce themselves. They wore a mask and of course we didn’t at home. I asked them if we should put ours on and revealed we both had been vaccinated. It turned out they had as well. We all went maskless for the rest of the encounter.

If there is a mask policy in the United States, it is either unknown most places I went, or unenforced. Masking is something we Americans do only when required, and not always then.

At this point in pandemic progress, people not vaccinated continue to be at high risk of COVID-19. There is a news story circulating about a woman who avoided getting vaccinated because of side effects people mentioned. She contracted COVID-19, was on a ventilator for a month, then died. Her two children lost their mother. Vaccinated people have not been getting sick with COVID-19 very much.

During our drive I noticed the crappy condition of the interstate highways: countless potholes and not enough construction crews. Whether it is infrastructure, healthcare, or masking during a pandemic, Americans don’t do it well. My advice is get vaccinated if you haven’t been, and wear a mask when indoors in a public place. It may not be socially acceptable among your cohort, although it may save your life.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa.