Even though I grew up in the antipodes, I’m not completely cut off from the world, so I wasn’t overly surprised when I arrived in March and saw a large amount of motorbike drivers clad in masks.
AlthoughI was skeptical, I'm told that they’re a godsend, especially if you find yourself behind a truck or a bus, something that, I can now attest, makes breathing a difficult and unpleasant exercise. So maybe there's something to the motorbike masks.
The fact that they’re primarily worn by women also suggests to me that they have something to do with the national obsession with light skin, but that is, as of yet, an unproven hypothesis.
But over the past few months a new phenomenon has emerged. No longer is the mask a cloth driving accessory but it has, with the swine flu epidemic, turned into a surgical life accessory.
I’m going to go ahead and check my cultural sensitivity at the door here and be honest: these masks are really stupid. They're ineffective, superficial, and, most importantly, an enormous pain in my ass.
For one, I’m pretty sure that these masks put the wearer more at risk than he or she would be without. This is especially true with small children, who idly chew on theirs. Before long, what was once a mask transforms into a soggy, disgusting mess. Pretty gross. Also, it completely negates the mask in the first place, as swine flu is a waterborn disease. It swims sperm-like through snot and spit droplets, and will think nothing of swan-diving into that mess and delivering you a hot, fresh case of H1N1.
Not to mention the fact that walking around with that sludge on your face all day creates a breeding ground for other germs.
They’re also a hassle. Not just a small hassle, but an enormous one. If you ever think your blood pressure is too low, do this: get a job as an English teacher for 10 five-year olds, all of whom are wearing surgical masks. Not only are their already-tiny voices muffled by their so-called “protection,” they’ve also been told by their parents not to take them off under any circumstances. I inadvertently made a child cry last week when, without thinking, I reached over and pulled his mask down because I wanted to – god forbid – hear his voice in a language class.
I’m prepared to put up with hassles if it’s in the name of safety. Indeed, I’m a big fan of safety: I always wear a bike helmet, never fail to put on my seatbelt, and after a really nasty foot infection two years ago, always clean my cuts with hydrogen peroxide and warm water. So if the masks were actually preventing swine flu, I’d applaud them. “Go ahead,” I’d enthusiastically crow, “wear a mask! I’m wearing two!”
But that’s why they’re so annoying. They’re not effective at all. It’s not like they’re a little bit effective, or sometimes effective. No. A surgical mask is not a valid way to protect yourself from swine flu, or anything else for that matter. Not leaving the house is a good way to avoid the flu, as is wearing an expensive, completely impractical respirator. Or, you know, washing your hands.
And here’s the final, crushing blow to this moronic cultural phenomenon. Swine flu isn’t a big deal. I don’t know why nobody’s really said this, but let’s face it: it’s not. With an estimated mortality rate of less than half a percent, and probably, in fact, less than that because so many cases never make it to a doctor or hospital, it’s really not anything to worry about.
So, face-hiders, please, I’m begging you. For the sake of your dignity and my sanity, stop playing into the hands of the pharmacists who have shrewdly doubled and even tripled the price of their surgical masks and think rationally. Because I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.