In the Suburbs: Still not ready for an uncovered life

We’ve been officially released from “mask prison,” indoors and outdoors, and I know I should be excited about being unmasked and vaccinated against airborne germs again. But, frankly, I’m edgy about this mass return to an unmasked society.

Yes, I have been doubly vaccinated, but the truth is that I’ve gotten so used to living inside my protective world of personal germs, speaking in muffled, sometimes unrecognizable tones and using lots of mouthwash, I’m not so quick to show my naked face again.

And I know I’m not alone. Many other seniors like me and plenty of younger folks with whom I’ve spoken are not rushing to whip off their masks so quickly, especially when it comes to crowded places like supermarkets, malls and big box stores like Walmart and Costco.

My favorite waitress Brenda, for instance, said that her boss at Bridgeport Flyer Diner has given a thumbs up to no masks provided staff have been vaccinated. She joked that she can finally wear her favorite turtle earnings,which were always caught on her mask.

I noticed on Wednesday when I went to Crazy Donut in Stratford for my morning coffee that, like me, three other customers were wearing masks. It was like second nature for me to put the mask on and these days I hardly notice that it’s still on.

While the Fairfield University Bookstore, where I work part time, has been carefully sanitized and protected since reopening for business last June, I will continue to wear my mask even though our and Starbucks’ cash registers are protected by Plexiglass.

Of course, since I am teaching, my mask routine will not change and, along with my colleagues, I will continue wearing my mask for the remainder of the year. Schools are definitely not exempt from indoor mask wearing. And my sense is that I will probably wear a mask throughout my summer school teaching at Upward Bound, a summer program for urban college-bound students. Even though we’ll probably be back in the former GE building on Sacred Heart’s west campus, our masks will be required if not recommended.

I asked my colleague, Sheridan, one of our English teachers, how she felt about being unmasked outside of school. She said she will probably continue the practice because she is concerned in general about other airborne illnesses. She genuinely believes that she has been more protected because of the mask.

How will store owners or managers of large chains know if someone has received the vaccine? They won’t unless they require all shoppers to show their vaccination cards. Because of HIPPA requirements, I don’t think that will ever happen. But if we are really honest about wanting to avoid COVID-19, we need to self-mandate the mask rule until we have received both shots.

For instance, the owner of a boutique shop in Milford mentioned on WICC radio Wednesday that she will continue to require a mask of all customers. She shared with host Melissa Sheketoff that she has been asking customers if they have been vaccinated and none have resisted. Since the shop is probably small, I support her mask mandate to keep customers safe.

When we were in China with our daughter nearly four years ago to pick up our little grandson Lucas, a large number of residents in large cities like Beijing and Guangzhou seemed to wear masks routinely. And that was well before COVID-19. But the smog was so intense and the country had been through SARS and the bird flu. Those respiratory challenges alone were probably the best cure for not wearing a mask in China.

The reality about masks from my perspective is that wearing them has been no more than a routine process to get used to. After the initial quarantine announcement last March that we’d all stand a better chance of staying well by putting a mask on, social distancing and following extra rules of hygiene, I never thought of resisting. And I thought everyone else would feel the same. Not!

But many of those who tempted fate by ignoring a mask and paying the price by contracting the illness and possibly transmitting it to others, reinforced that COVID-19 couldn’t just be dismissed as a hoax. And there are still plenty of citizens here in Connecticut and throughout the nation who refused to wear the masks and may have skipped their free vaccination also.

Today, I believe that adults and students have remained or become even more responsible about wearing masks, no matter how much we consider them a nuisance. And I think we are going to see continued usage for at least the near term and possibly over an extended period.

I am happy to go on record that my wife and I will still put on our masks when we shop or travel, as part of our regular routine, and I have a feeling our daughter and our two grandsons will as well. While we have escaped the wrath of Covid-19 and our daughter was vaccinated and has been fine also, our little grandsons picked up mild cases, possibly from school and daycare.

So thanks Gov. Lamont for lifting the mask-wearing restriction, but for now we’ll just keep things covered as usual.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.