That Masked Man

Above: A Covid-19 selfie.

BitDepth#1250 for May 21, 2020

There is a powerful irony in bastions of business switching in short order from wanting patrons to remove their hats as they cross doorways to demanding that customers enter the premises wearing a mask.

Such dramatic inversions aside, we face the prospect of proceeding about our public days wearing cloth over our faces for some time to come.

The requirement to wear a face mask in public spaces was dramatically reinforced by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley at a press update on Saturday when he seemed to find inspiration in the phrase, “No mask, no service.”

It’s unclear whether that imprecation applies to the many different interpretations of masking that I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks.

Masks are being made out of wildly unsuitable materials, including crocheted fabric, worn in ways that offer no protection, most notably under the nose and sometimes even skewed off to one side.

In a country that has developed wildly inventive traditions of masking, it comes as no surprise that there is a bold, some might say brazen, surge in designer masks with accompanying price tags.

Where once there was scarcity, there is now abundance, as being masked is less a matter of access than it is of wide-ranging choice.

I got my own mask early on, in basic matte black from Fitted, the sewing service I use. I paid more for a pair than I might have elsewhere, but I trusted their workmanship and more significantly, I wanted them to stay in business, supporting the seamstresses they employ.

I was pleased to discover, some time later, that Fitted had made some donations of food to the needy.

It’s proven to be a well-made, lightweight mask, with a tidy accordion pleating that makes it really to adjust. I’ve seen other masks that have been shaped by their stitching and material, but I really just wanted the coverage without the fashion fuss.

If I have one complaint, it’s that my bat ears, after folding back nicely against my head since my thoroughly embarrassing teens, get pulled forward alarmingly by the elastic. It’s a déjà vu I could do without.

Like other masks designed around the widely circulated standard for non-medical face protection, their product is double-sheeted with an access pouch for adding an additional filtration.

Medical consensus is that such a mask is made more robust with the addition of flannel material, and an old pair of PJ’s was sacrificed to provide the raw material for that, adding a jaunty pink polka dot pattern that is mercifully hidden inside the black material.

But if you don’t get the additional material arranged properly in the mask itself – and it’s tricky to do – it can bunch up and make it hard to breathe. 

And that’s already a problem. One of the bellwether tests for the effectiveness of a mask is trying to blow out a match held a foot in front of your face while wearing it.

A mask that filters that much airflow and maintains a good seal on your face also traps some carbon dioxide from your breath.

Over time, particularly in situations which require a bit of exertion, it’s quite possible to start getting a bit loopy.

I couldn’t imagine doing strenuous exercise wearing a proper protective mask and I don’t drive with it on.

A cloth mask should be cleaned. How often? It depends on where you go and how much you are exposed to. If you suspect you have been close to someone who may be Covid-19 positive, it should be cleaned immediately after you wash yourself.

I put the masks in a bowl of hot soapy water once a week for around fifteen minutes with vigorous agitation. After drying , you might even want to smooth the cloth gently with an iron.

Because I wear glasses, the lenses fog up while wearing a mask and so has my camera’s viewfinder doing the socially distanced portraits I’ve done for Newsday recently.

Some articles suggest letting a film of soapy water dry on the lenses, but I also have an anti-fog solution for my swim goggles that should work.

That might become necessary in situations in which I don’t want to touch my glasses while working because I can’t trust where my fingers have been.

We all look a bit silly now, and in an era of heads-down, masks-on, eyes-ahead public appearances, I am the man in the ironed mask.

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