Mask-wearing as vegetarianism

We might find out that COVID-19 infection carries with it a parcel of unwanted downstream effects. Say, a modestly increased risk of heart attack, of stroke, of early dementia. And maybe that those risks go up with repeated infection. It’s in no way certain any of this is the case. I’m not even sure it’s likely! But the probability seems high enough that it’s worth thinking about what the consequences of that would be.

My instinct is that the practice of wearing masks in crowded indoor settings would end up looking like the practice of vegetarianism does now. In other words, it would be something which:

  • clearly has individual health benefits although the magnitude is arguable;
  • clearly has public-good benefits although the magnitude is arguable;
  • most people don’t do;
  • some people feel they ought to do but don’t, or don’t fully;
  • changes over time from seeming “weird” to being well within the range of normal things people do, though there remain aggrieved antis who can’t shut up about how irrational and self-righteous the practitioners are;
  • is politically impossible to imagine being imposed by government

Would I be one of the people who kept up mask-wearing in crowded public places? I mean, I’ve been doing it so far, though certainly not with 100% adherence.

I do still eat meat, even though the environmental case for vegetarianism is clear-cut, and there’s a reasonably compelling argument that eating meat is bad for my own health. But giving up meat forever would be a lot harder on me than wearing a mask to the grocery store forever.

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4 thoughts on “Mask-wearing as vegetarianism

  1. Alison says:

    As someone who has recently had low iron and vitamin B12 levels (and who doesn’t consume dairy for other reasons), I don’t see vegetarianism as clearly benefiting my health overall in my individual case, though I agree that on aggregate it does. (Note I know that most vegetarians do not suffer from these deficiencies, and please do not give me health advice in the comments section!)

    I don’t think there’s a condition as common as anemia that is negatively affected by mask-wearing, but anti-mask advocates may disagree.

    I think there’s also a difference that it’s much more visible whether or not you’re wearing a mask, though I’m not sure how that affects things.

  2. Richard Séguin says:

    There are clear significant benefits for wearing masks in public. It has been noted by lots of people, and especially by medical professionals, that in addition to helping protect from COVID-19 transmission, mask wearing has greatly reduced other kinds of respiratory acquired infections. The regular misery, death and economic costs to the individual and society as whole by influenza alone is enormous, and influenza infection fizzled during mask wearing. (I’m not sure if masks would help with a measles outbreak though.) I’m still wearing masks indoors at this point (though not outdoors). I can not risk getting a possibly damaging lung infection of COVID-19 since two weird infections of other types have already compromised both of my lungs in the past few years. I’m happy to see that many more people are still wearing masks now indoors than after mask requirements were removed after the first big wave.

    COVID-19 is proving to be more dangerous and more insidious than the typical influenza. Particularly concerning, after all the deaths, is the long term effect of the virus. A lot of people who have had even minor infections have wound up with “long haul COVID.” Based on my experience, this could have enormous personal and social cost in the future. Several decades ago I had a respiratory virus that lasted for six weeks. It was nasty and after only three weeks I felt totally wasted. I finally seemed to recover, but not without a lot of residual fatigue. They called it post-viral syndrome. Within a span of a few months though I developed some other alarming symptoms that are common to long haul COVID, and I struggled for several years with no real diagnosis. (It was finally determined that layered on top of this was a kind of antibody deficiency that probably pre-dated the viral infection, but that’s another big story and I won’t go there now. Treating the deficiency did help enormously in attenuating the “post-viral syndrome” symptoms.)

  3. Richard Séguin says:

    I now have a little dilemma. I have tickets for Renée Fleming events on both Thursday and Saturday nights at Shannon Hall in the Memorial Union, and I’ve discovered that they now have neither a mask nor proof of vaccination requirement even though there is once again a steady rise in cases. The Orchestra and Mezzanine seats are almost totally sold out, so there will be a lot of people around me in my Orchestra seat. Moreover, classical music audiences have a tendency to cough. Would I be safe even if I wear a mask? I just had a second booster shot two days ago. Hmmm …

  4. Richard Séguin says:

    I did in fact attend both the Renée Fleming events, Music and Health on Thursday, and the recital on Saturday. The theater was pretty much packed for the recital. At both events, I would say that more than half the audience wore masks, including myself. I’m very glad I went, and not just because both events were enjoyable. Particularly during the recital, I think everyone felt a personal surge in good feeling when the entire audience responded in enthusiastic applause after each piece. That joyful social oneness is something we just haven’t been feeling for over two years and I think everyone has been sorely missing.

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