Keep your masks on, and give me some space, please; COVID-19 is still with us | Tammy C. Barney

New Orleans Mask
Visitors walk past face mask signs along Decatur Street in the French Quarter on July 14, 2020 in New Orleans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

To wear or not to wear a mask, why is this still a question?

As much as we want our lives to return to normal, the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. Not everyone has been vaccinated, herd immunity has not developed, and COVID-19 variants are still out there.

Now is not the time to throw caution to the wind like our neighbors to the east and west have done. Texas and Mississippi lifted their statewide mask mandates earlier this month. Texas took it a step further by allowing all businesses to operate at full capacity. Other states, such as Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia, also have loosened their restrictions.

I am thankful that Gov. John Bel Edwards has not followed suit. He understands the importance of saving residents from themselves. “If you tell people, ‘OK, we’re going to remove the mask mandate,’ but then you also say, ‘We strongly encourage you to keep wearing the mask,’ they don’t hear the second part,” Edwards said. “Because in their mind, they’re gonna say, ‘Well, if wearing the mask is important, you wouldn’t have removed the mandate.’ ”

That’s exactly what happened in Mississippi after Gov. Tate Reeves told residents they no longer were required to wear masks. According to the Washington Post, Carrie Kizek decided not to wear a mask when she went to lunch with her mother, because “if he [Gov. Reeves] says we don’t have to, then I’m not.”  

This disturbing trend of states lifting COVID-19 restrictions could cause the spread of coronavirus to go “off the rails,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Huffington Post. Apparently, some government leaders don’t care if we stick to the commonsense health guidelines. Therefore, it’s up to us to forge ahead by committing to creating a new normal.

Let’s start by continuing the 6-foot social distancing guideline. Virus or no virus, there is no good reason for a stranger to stand thisclose to me in the grocery checkout line. It doesn’t make the cashier go any faster, and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. While we are at it, let’s require airlines to get rid of the middle seat. No one likes to sit in them, and no one likes to sit that close to a stranger. And do we really need to stand or sit on top of each other to enjoy a concert, sporting event or worship service? Six feet of separation works for me.

Because people probably still are not washing their hands – I cringe every time I think of how many door handles I touched before the hand-washing guideline was implemented – office buildings, retail stores, medical facilities and hotels should continue to sanitize high touch areas every few minutes as they did during the height of the pandemic. Stores also should continue to sanitize shopping carts for customers and supply hand-sanitizer stations. In addition, gas stations should supply disposable gloves for us to use when pumping gas. Have you ever stopped to consider the amount of germs on those pump handles? If you aren’t wearing gloves when you pump, I’d suggest that you start.

Even though I have had my second shot of the Pfizer vaccine, I plan to wear at least one mask for the foreseeable future. I currently wear two at a time. Like Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical advisor, I believe masks protect us not only from COVID-19 and its variants, but also from the flu.

The CDC reports that between Oct. 1 and Jan. 30, 155 people in the United States were  hospitalized with the flu, a 98 percent decrease from the 8,633 people hospitalized with the flu during the same window in the 2019-2020 flu season. That’s all the proof I need to continue wearing a mask as a new normal.

In all seriousness, the best question to ask at this point is: To live or not to live? As of Tuesday, 10,030 COVID-19 deaths were reported in Louisiana and 548,613 nationwide. Since we cannot reclaim those lives, I see no benefit in returning to normal. I also see no reason to stop following the guidelines that we should have been following long before the pandemic became our reality.

As everyone rushes back to normal, I will continue to move forward 6 feet at a time, masked and gloved up with an ample supply of hand sanitizer. That’s the only normalcy I need.