I Mask When Asked
It has now been three full years since the COVID-19 virus was first identified in Wuhan, China. When the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic in March 2020, my city, San Francisco, was the first in the nation to enter a lockdown. When mask mandates began soon after, I followed them strictly and consistently. And when vaccines became available, I signed up to get them as soon as I was eligible to do so.
I’m now quintuple-vaxxed, having gotten the initial two-dose Pfizer series and three boosters, including the latest bivalent formulation. I’ve yet to come down with COVID (knock on wood). While unlikely, it’s possible that I could be carrying the disease without experiencing symptoms. But so far, all COVID tests I’ve taken while experiencing any possible symptoms have come up negative.
I had stopped wearing masks completely when the mandates were lifted, other than in places that required them. But now I’m wearing them again voluntarily, indoors in spaces where masks are recommended, even if they’re not required. This is not because of fear of getting the virus myself; I understand that the purpose of masking is primarily to prevent transmitting the disease to others. (I wish more people understood this!)
Regardless of the importance of masking — which I recognize and respect — I really don’t like it, for a number of reasons. For one, it’s difficult for me to connect with people when more than half of their faces are covered. This is not just because masks muffle sound and limit emotional expression. It’s because being in a world where everyone is masked feels downright creepy to me, like I’m in a horror film whenever I leave my home.
I wonder if any studies have been done — or are ongoing —on whether this reaction to masks is more likely to affect neurodivergent people like myself. (This year I was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder, after consulting with a therapist to see if I might be autistic.) It doesn’t bother me to the point where I would seek a medical exemption to masking. But even if it did, an exemption wouldn’t help, as this issue is with other people wearing masks, not me. And mandate or no mandate, I’m certainly not going to ask someone to remove their own mask for my emotional comfort.