Planet Plague 3: An Acceptable Level of Virus

The strap of my mask broke at Safeway. It wasn’t the first time it happened. Last week, I was climbing the steps to my front door while taking the mask off and I lost my footing. My hand, still holding the mask, shot out to grab the railing. I didn’t fall down the stairs, but the mask did not fare so well.

Becca had ordered a couple of cloth masks, but they weren’t due to arrive for another week. In the meantime, I reattached the strap with a band aid. It was better than nothing and I could use a bandana if it broke again. On Sunday, we went grocery shopping and I forgot to bring the bandana.

The strap broke in the veggies section of the frozen-food aisle. Safeway, like most other businesses in California, has a strict rule against entering the establishment without a mask on. Though not explicitly posted, there is probably a similar rule against taking the mask off once you’re inside. Equipment malfunction? Tough shit and get out.

I tried to reattach the mask by looping the broken strap around my ear. That didn’t work so Becca stepped in and knotted the strap around the corner of the mask. That held for a couple of minutes then popped loose again. At that point, I grabbed the wire on the top of the mask and pinched it tightly on my nose. I had to breathe through my mouth, but the mask would stay on as long as I stared straight ahead.

I got through the checkout line and walked home like that, inhaling like Darth Vader to get enough oxygen because the inside of my mask what full of CO2 from breathing heavily though my mouth. I probably should have taken the mask off and breathed normally once we were outside, at least long enough to allow the snowballing hyperventilation to subside. Instead I soldiered on, hating the world around me and looking forward to getting home where neither a mask nor pants were required.

After we got back, I must have looked pretty traumatized because Becca insisted I go chill while she put away the groceries. To relax, I pulled out my phone and had a look at the latest COVID-19 stats on the Worldometer site.

The numbers had been on a plateau lately, about 20-30K new cases and about 1-2K deaths each day. There appeared to be a slight downward trend according to the daily graph, not enough to warrant tearing off our masks and jumping into the nearest fuck pile, but a cause for optimism nonetheless.

The graph made the data consumable, but the daily ups and downs made it hard sometimes for my untrained eye to see the overall pattern. For a while, they had a line representing a rolling seven-day average. That feature was there for a couple of weeks and then vanished without explanation.

Maybe there was a bug in the software that made them pull the feature. Maybe people complained and they feared a loss of ad revenue.

Different people visited the site for different reasons. There were harmless dweebs like me who sought out statistics so we didn’t have to face the reality of human tragedy. We liked visual aids that help us understand the numbers, if nothing else.

Of course, there were the armchair epidemiologists who cruised the site to cherry-pick data to bolster a viewpoint where reason stood no chance against obstinance. “Daily deaths dropped from 1,422 to 750 in one day and yet Big Mask still insists we cover our faces,” they would say. For these people, the long view was a personal affront.

Maybe I was just being paranoid. I knew nothing about Worldometer’s motivations. About this whole coronavirus business, I knew even less.

Sickness and dying were things that happened somewhere else to other people. There might be a day when I would be personally affected by a pandemic fatality, but that day had not arrived. By observing proper social distancing, no death would be my fault and was therefore not my problem.

So far, all I’ve had to endure was a broken strap on a mask. I was able to get through that more or less intact. If I ever have to face any real adversity, all bets are off.