Day 16: Overcoming the Stigma

April 7, 2020 Covid

I brought you something”, Rocío says and pulls a surgical mask out of her pocket. We’re standing in front of the supermarket for our weekly shopping trip, and it’s time to Only one person per household” proclaims the sign outside, so here I am, about to enter the supermarket with a mask on for a second time in a week.

1.3 million cases of coronavirus worldwide and the consensus we’re arriving at is that you should act like you have it: Stay in, go out only for groceries, wash hands vigorously, and well… wear a mask. I happen to own a bunch of masks that I bought for my flight back from Japan last year, so we don’t have any excuses not to wear them.

In fact, it’s funny how quickly seeing people with masks has become normal. The first time I saw a fellow shopper with a mask, they seemed like a complete lunatic. Then more and more people started showing up with masks, and now it seems like a sensible thing to wear one, almost rude not to.

What they don’t tell you about wearing a mask is just how unpleasant it is: Not just because it quickly gets hot and claustrophobic, but also because you feel just like that aforementioned lunatic yourself. Look at him, handling the fennel with his bare hands but wearing a surgical mask! What a double standard!” In Asia, wearing a mask is generally considered a courtesy towards others (you wear the mask not to infect them), but here it feels like a real stigma to overcome.

In fact, I blame the masks for having made the supermarket feel like ground zero of the pandemic: Nowhere else does it feel as likely to get infected, nowhere else do people seem so scared. Looking at them from behind a mask certainly doesn’t help, and so all interactions are hushed, even smiles blunted.

Next: Day 19: Excuses, excuses, excuses.

Previous: Day 13: What Remains

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