Commentary: The reason behind the mask

When someone coughs next to me I feel imminent threat. I hiss at my friends to wear a mask if they are sick, and if needed I even share my own precious masks I steal from the University of New Brunswick Student Health Centre. It’s disappointing when they accept the mask but never wear it. Give it back if you won’t use it.

I hope the coronavirus outbreak will finally make Canadians put on their battle masks to combat the infection and be more aware of these invisible demons. 

The coronavirus began in Hubei province, China and spread fast because, like many other viruses, such as influenza, common cold, and mononucleosis, it travels by air. Breathing the same air as someone who’s sick, even if they don’t have visible symptoms, can put you at risk.

As of Jan. 26 there are 56 confirmed deaths from the coronavirus and more than two thousand infected, one of which was detected in Toronto.

The mask-wearing trend began in Japan in the early 20th century because of a massive influenza pandemic, along with other outbreaks and the air pollution that resulted from larger scale industrialization. Mask are popular in East Asia because of the countries’ shared values. Masks have integrated themselves into our culture and daily lives.

Wearing a surgical mask won’t protect you 100 per cent, but it will reduce the risk if worn properly.

Your hands have to be clean when putting on your mask. The top part of the mask has a wire that should be molded to your nasal bridge. Taking it off, even for a second, will kill the purpose of the mask. You also can’t touch your face under the mask because it’ll introduce the virus and bacteria.

Surgical masks should be changed every eight hours and shouldn’t be reused. If they become moist, dispose of them. They’re free at hospitals and clinics.

I’m not trying to guilt-trip everyone for spreading viruses, but rather reduce the risk of outbreaks on campus because schools are usually the places where infections spread the most.

I was born with a weak immune system and almost always brought home viruses from kindergarten and school. Mom would quarantine me in my room, open all windows and make me wear a mask to reduce the risk of spreading the viral infection. It’s now a habit to wear a mask if I get sick to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

In East Asian countries, wearing a mask is considered normal and practical. When you’re sick you wear a mask to show consideration for other people’s health, to prevent catching anything yourself, to protect yourself from pollution and keep the face warm during winter.

But whenever I wear a mask in Canada, whether be it Toronto, Montreal or Fredericton, Canadians turn their heads. Some ask about the mask, others think I’m on the verge of death and request I stay away. Most just stare.

In a way, I’m glad people keep their distance since it reduces the chances of spreading the virus. But at the same time, the stigma causes them to avoid wearing masks when they need to because of anxiety or embarrassment from the confused stares of strangers.

My roommate once called me Bane, like the masked villain from DC comics, and said they forgot what my face looked like. But I don’t care because I’d rather be Bane and healthy than Ms. Sick-and-Miserable.

Now go and wear a mask, *cough* please.

P.S. A virus can live on surfaces for up to seven days so if you share a living space with the infected, wipe surfaces before using them. A tip to disinfect living spaces: buy eucalyptus and mint oils, pour some on a small cloth or towel and leave it in the room. It also helps with nose congestions.

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