Caution should come first
With restrictions being lifted and parts of the world returning to in-person routines, many are anxious to get back to their pre-pandemic normal. However, preventative measures like mask wearing and physical distancing have proven to have a multitude of non-pandemic related benefits. After the high levels of hygienic scrutiny throughout the last two years, it would be regressive to disregard such simple and effective health measures in a post-pandemic society.
Mask wearing is prevalent in many non-North American countries as a courtesy to protect others from getting sick, and recent data shows there have been significantly less flu-related deaths since mask mandates were put in place. Now, masks have become an accessory, introducing endless colour-coordinating opportunities, and with colder weather approaching, they have joined the winter garment roster. Providing both fashion and function, masks can help hide a surprise pimple, or offer coverage on days when one wants to keep a low profile.
Many have adopted a “better safe than sorry” mindset, and capacity limits in stores and bars means avoiding the stress of having too many people jammed into a tiny room. With the holiday season approaching, the idea of having to elbow a path through the shopping crowds is unappealing, to say the least. And though the distanced line for the Carrefour Sherbrooke Starbucks may be hellish, avoiding larger gatherings and being mindful of enclosed spaces brings not only reduced risk of inhaling foul body odor, but also hygienic peace of mind.
This same mindset carries through with the implementation of masks and hand sanitizer at the entrance of most stores and buildings, including McGill’s. Visitors are required to sanitize their hands before entering, something that helps mollify germaphobic worries. Furthermore, this ensures that elevator buttons, railings, and door handles are touched by hands that are 99.8 per cent bacteria free.
Overall, with these hygiene solutions providing benefits for everyday lives, they should stay post-pandemic. But the thing that has been made most clear over the past year is that with scary things like crowds and germs outside, there’s no shame in staying inside.
Valentina de la Borbolla
Futile measures will falter
Although health measures like mask-wearing provide substantial protection against COVID-19 and other diseases, it is unrealistic to expect the general population to maintain these practices that are so closely associated with a state of emergency. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, it is important to adjust our expectations of individual behaviours, especially when the risk of infection is lower.
In many cases, public health directions have been confusing, contradictory, or downright illogical, like Quebec’s soon-to-be-lifted ban on dancing in clubs. Other measures like temperature checks and surface sanitization provide little more than reassurance, which experts have even called “hygiene theatre.” These inconsistent rules have worsened pandemic fatigue, which in turn makes people disregard public health recommendations, unreasonable or not.
Another key point of contention is how long governments and businesses should continue to enforce mask mandates. While wearing a mask for one’s own personal comfort will likely become more normalized, continued mandates are not sustainable. For one, measures like masks and lockdowns have become increasingly politicized. Masks have found themselves at the centre of culture wars, with some refusing to wear them in supposed acts of resistance. For example, protests against public measures are widespread in many cities, including Montreal. And when the CDC announced it was safe to go maskless in public, many feared doing so at risk of being viewed as anti-maskers. When measures become less about public health and more about political signalling, the likelihood of them being widely accepted decreases. In addition, as government officials express optimism over lowering cases and increasing vaccinations, people’s sense of urgency diminishes.
Furthermore, the fact that these measures would be inconsistently adopted in the long term scales down their efficacy altogether. Like vaccines, masks are most effective when the majority of people are wearing them. Even if it is sensible to continue wearing masks, it will come down to personal choice. However, this is no silver-bullet solution because not everyone will comply.
Going back to normal does not have to be reckless, but it also does not have to be about enforcing futile measures. A fully hygienic future is impossible and holding the expectation that it will be is a recipe for disappointment.