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Covid Journals: Mask Life

From left to right, Sternies Deirdre Keane, Michelle Vogt Gwerder, Teresa Bruno, Shaina Himelstein and Shelby Duncan and their masks.

As part of our Covid Journal series, we asked your fellow classmates, named above, to share their perspectives on a new staple of our everyday lives: Masks. 

Considering that we live in one of the fashion capitals of the world, let’s start there. As you can see from the photos above, and in true New York fashion, most masks our article participants sport are black and utilitarian. Shelby’s classic, surgical mask will never go out of style. It’s tried and true. In fact, one of our featured Sternies, and Oppy EiC, Deirdre, works in a hospital and wears surgical masks daily. That plus her sense of personal style explains why she’s the only person pictured who opted for a fancy, colorful mask for special, socially distanced occasions (this one is from Tory Burch). In my case, I’d gone to buy surgical masks at my local Westside Market and was upsold to black ones at the point of sale. Three blues for $10 versus 50 blacks for $15? It was a no brainer! Although I feel bad not wearing a reusable one, like Michelle, who purchased her black mask at Athleta and raised a great point that masks are fun, new accessories. 

Form is as important as fashion. That’s why the standard, surgical mask is a staple. Shaina’s mask is a duckbill design, which provides space between the nose and mouth and the mask so that the wearer doesn’t feel as constricted. And, as she mentioned, when the weather gets colder, it’s nice to wear one because it keeps your face warm. I completely agree and conversely enjoyed wearing a mask in the summer months because it protected my face from the sun. The summer and mask-wearing did not agree with Deirdre, who remarked that it was rough to wear a mask while she was running. Sunblock would melt into her mask and she ended up ingesting it. Yuck!

Pain points abound. Masks cause us to struggle to understand what others say because hearing them clearly is a challenge. In an in-person class, you have to shout. If you are lucky, as I am in my only in-person class, you will use what I imagine to be United Nations Forum-style microphones which offer brief moments of fun amongst the mundanity (maybe it’s just me but I really love taking a mic!). But this is a paragraph on pain points, so let’s get back to those. Importantly, there are accessibility issues. One of our participants is hard of hearing, so losing the ability to read lips when people are speaking makes interactions challenging. Two others have poor eyesight and were plagued by the constant fogging-up of glasses during class. This led one of us to get an eye infection; it’s gross but a true hazard of mask wearing! The lesson here: contact lenses plus mask is a better combo. The group’s final in-class pain point, reminiscent of my recent Zoom musings, comes from Shaina: “That you can’t eat or drink for hours on end – that’s the worst part. I can take everything else.” 

Snafus and discomforts aside, this group strongly agrees that it’s worthwhile to wear masks. You won’t likely find a New Yorker who would disagree that masks protect us and others from the spread of Covid-19. Also, it keeps NYU open! Shaina summed it up well: “As cumbersome as wearing masks all day can be, I’m so grateful that we can have some semblance of normalcy with in-person classes. I feel safe in the classroom and I’m so grateful to Stern for the measures they are taking.” 

Surprisingly, all of our article participants enjoy that masks belie their true emotions. As Deirdre points out, “my facial expressions tend to betray my feelings, and I am happy to report that has been happening less frequently now!” Although much expression comes from the eyes and eyebrows and when you smile your entire face changes, it’s definitely easier to hide that you are laughing or distracted when wearing a mask. And a bonus elucidated by Shelby: “You don’t have to smile at bad jokes anymore!”

So besides fewer smiles for bad jokes, what does the future hold for mask wearers? We asked the group where they think their masks will be in one to two years. Michelle and Shaina’s comments provide a comical juxtaposition of optimism and pessimism: “On my face” versus “Hopefully in the trash.” A more pragmatic perspective, Shelby will wear a mask when she feels unwell but needs to go out, and when flying for work. I agree that this experience will normalize mask wearing, which is a good thing for the overall health of our communities. And naturally, Deirdre will always have to wear a mask to work in the hospital: “It makes sense. It protects both the patients and the staff” (…thank you to our healthcare heros!). 

In closing, a valuable piece of advice and a critical recommendation as local and national Covid cases are on the rise.

  • “Don’t forget to wash masks frequently or replace them if they’re disposable. While they’ll still protect you from droplets, they will harbor some gross bacteria that can lead to breakouts or possible viruses that cause GI bugs.” – Deirdre 
  • “Wear your mask! – Michelle and Shelby

And don’t forget to consult the CDC for the latest guidelines on face coverings!

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