Today, for the first time since Christmas Eve, I’ll be able to walk outside our apartment without wearing a surgical mask. I say “surgical mask” for just posterity’s sake, in case there’s some future point when people have lost their familiarity with COVID enough that mask-wearing once more requires clarification. Someday, hopefully, saying I’ll be able to walk outside without wearing a mask will sound the way it should: weird.
When Spain’s last mask order went into effect, I was in the US, waiting to pick up food outside a restaurant on South Padre Island. The restaurant was divided into indoor and outdoor seating areas; the waitperson in charge of one patio section wore a mask; the one in charge of the other did not. They rubbed elbows next to each other at the servers’ station. Some customers pulled masks on the minute they got out of their cars, kept them on while they walked to their tables, then pulled them off again. Others looked grim, like they’d rather burn to death than don a mask for any reason whatsoever. This was the hill they’d chosen to die on.
After two years of pandemic life in Europe, I find so much freedom exhausting. Here, the government tells us what to do and we do it.
By and large.
But even Spain found its latest masking requirement a little absurd. Experts weighed in, pointing out that it’s indoors that mask-wearing really matters.
People took off their masks when they were on their phones. (Because —duh! – you can’t hear anyone if you’re wearing a mask over your mouth).
People pulled down their masks to smoke cigarettes on the street corners. They yanked them to the side when they stopped someone to ask for directions.
Ostensibly, masks were required at outdoor cafes (except if you were actively eating or drinking). This meant I walked down the street wearing a mask, even if I was alone. I’d then take it off the second I sat down at a tiny café table with someone. (I’d put it back on to go into the restaurant to use the restroom, walking past tables of unmasked people to get there.)
Masks were required outdoors — unless you were in a “natural area.” Nobody knew if a natural area meant the mountains or a city park. I usually yanked off my mask the second I was within sight of the entrance to the park near our apartment.
One thing Covid has taught me: the scent of unfettered air is indescribably sweet. The first unmasked breath of it is enough to make you cry.
This morning, I reminded my sixteen-year-old she no longer needed to wear a mask when she walked from our apartment to the bus stop.
—I’ll probably wear it anyway, she answered cheerfully, matter of fact. It keeps my face from getting cold.
Covid has been going on a fifth of her life.
(80 percent of the people I’ve seen outside today are still wearing their masks.)