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18th Feb 2022

OPINION: What we really think about NPHET recommending the end of mask-wearing

Katy Thornton

face masks

Yesterday NPHET recommended scrapping of masks in most settings, which came as a bit of a shock to most people.

These settings include public transport, schools, hospitality, and retail sectors. While this is all very exciting, and inches us that much closer to the “old normal” that we miss so much, I can’t help but feel it’s a little premature. Much as I don’t want to remind people (I’ve actually had to set evenings where using the “c” word is not allowed) coronavirus hasn’t gone anywhere; there’s still 8,000+ cases a day. And while I agree we shouldn’t let it dictate our lives, and I welcome the return of nightlife and fully operating hospitality with open arms, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t just keep masks for a little while longer. Are masks really that big of a deal?

My Two Cents

I’ve never understood the hullabaloo around wearing masks. I do feel for those who work in hospital settings who have to wear one for hours upon hours every day, but under these new rules, that’s not changing anytime soon. I also understand wearing a mask is difficult for people with certain health issues, or possibly disabling for people who are deaf and rely on lip-reading. I’m not talking about those people. I’m talking about those of us who just need to wear one on public transport, or to pop to the shops.

Again I wonder, what is the big deal around them? It’s a piece of fabric covering your nose and mouth – you can actually find quite nice ones these days. When they’ve been proven to work so well when it comes to dodging coronavirus in day to day settings, I don’t know why we’d scrap them.

nphet recommend the end of mask-wearing

When the UK did away with their mask-wearing mandate, I was surprised at how quickly everyone ditched them, even those I’d know to be covid cautious. Perhaps if we’d had a break from wearing them it would be easier to imagine a life with no masks, but seeing as it’s been a constant here, with 8,000+ cases a day, it just seems wild to me.

Even aside from the health risk associated with catching coronavirus, given how transmissible it is, how raging would you be to catch it off Karen (sorry Karens everywhere) on the Luas, when you’ve got a trip or plans coming up soon? I’m not going to pretend like I wear a mask in social settings with friends and family, but if I can potentially avoid getting covid from a stranger in a setting like public transport through mask-wearing, I’d really rather do that.

Hospitality, Retail, Public Transport

When the recommendation came through yesterday, all I could think about was all the settings I’d rather we continue wearing them in. I was on the Luas last night for 30 minutes, and even though it was past rush hour, it was fairly busy. I was thankful to have my mask on, and to see everyone else still abiding by the mandate. At the theatre I attended, it was fully packed, a fantastic sight to see given the last two years. But again, a sight that made me glad that everyone was wearing their masks. With social distancing gone, mask-wearing seems like a small price to pay for a little more safety. Honestly, take coronavirus out of it entirely; most people are painfully unaware of social boundaries, and if masks go, then we’re back to breathing all over one another which, let’s be real, is never pleasant.

nphet to end mask-wearing

I was recently queuing in Penneys and found a woman behind me was basically close enough to lick the back of my neck if she so wanted. (I’m sure she didn’t but purely to get her proximation to me across, we’ll go with that). I found myself looking for the social distance markers on the floor, to pointedly stare at them, only to realise that they are gone. The mask was the only thing between me and this woman. Seeing as she couldn’t possibly back up (as we all know, shoving into the person in front is a great way of moving up the queue faster) I was grateful to be wearing it.

But on a different note, for those who work in hospitality or retail sectors, why should they be put at more risk in their workplace when dealing with customers not wearing masks. I get in restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs that wearing masks has already become somewhat obsolete, understandably, but what about in retail? I understand we all want to think of coronavirus as something on its way out, and I truly hope it is. But why tempt fate?

Final Thoughts

I don’t want to come across like I want there to be restrictions in place. I don’t – I really don’t. Like everyone else, I welcome the return of normality and the end of unprecedented times. I couldn’t be happier that there’s very little we can’t do now in this new living-with-covid phase. I hope we don’t return to the days of restrictions or lockdowns.

Just because the mask-wearing mandate might go doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, can’t wear a mask if we don’t feel safe. I think we’ve all come to learn that those who don’t want to wear a mask simply won’t, and those who have been likely will continue to do so in certain settings. Maybe I’ll get used to not wearing one anymore, and it won’t even be a second thought. After almost two years of masks and social distancing, those habits die hard. But considering that wearing a mask protects people around me from me more than it protects me from them, I can’t help but feel that we’re not quite at the point where doing away with masks, to this degree, is a good idea.

It feels like a shock to the system. After the guts of two years dreading recommendations and proceeding announcements, we are now being told that it’s safe to remove the one thing that give us a tiny semblance of control over our situation, even if it is just a length of cloth around our nose and mouth. Out of all the dismantling of covid-procedures this one somehow feels the most visceral.

Header image via Shutterstock

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