The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic may be over, but many of us are still nursing the wounds it left.
Just as we began to stop the bleeding, monkeypox began its exploration across the world. Considered a national health emergency by the United States government and an international threat by the World Health Organization, this viral disease calls into question the precautions necessary to minimize its impact.
Among these precautions, there is one that is universally and intimately known: masks.
I can’t begin to imagine the sheer number of disposable masks I went through during the darkest hours of the pandemic. Wearing masks reduced the risk of contracting COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet the thought of having to wear one again, even for my health, leaves me strangely – and ironically – sick.
[Related: OPINION: IU should have a better response to monkeypox]
This uncomfortable feeling is not the one I hold on to alone. According to the public policy organization Brookings Institution, up to 20% of Americans have refused to wear masks in public, despite government influence and data proving it is safer to do so.
When this same group was asked why they chose to forego masks, a staggering 40% responded that it was their right as American citizens to do so. In an ironic twist, masks – the devices designed to ensure both the safety of the individual and the public – have come to be seen by a large portion of Americans as directly opposing their ideals and culture, rather than to protect them.
This prospect is troubling because of the dangers that not wearing a mask poses both to people without masks and to those around them. Diseases such as monkeypox may be more prevalent. In other words, the more people refuse to wear masks, the more people die.
Masks should become commonplace, not intrusive, in American society. Although it may seem strange at first glance, we can look at Japanese culture as an example of a society integrating masks into its life not only during the pandemic, but for all kinds of illnesses.
According to Web Japan, a Japanese culture information collective cultivated by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, mask-wearing first became commonplace during the 1918 and 1934 flu epidemics. mask by people with major and more minor illnesses, such as the common cold, has become part of Japanese culture, rather than something temporarily added to it.
[Related: Two years into the pandemic, IU scales back COVID-19 response]
Given both American adversity and Japanese acceptance of masks, I would like to encourage the integration of mask wearing into American culture, especially for those who are sick in public.
It’s very common in America for people with illnesses like the common cold to go to places like school, work, and the grocery store, despite the threat of spreading their illness to others around them.
The generalization of masks for sick Americans offers the advantage of reducing the spread of less serious diseases. By normalizing mask wearing in everyday life, more people will be willing to wear a mask when it is vital to do so, such as when we need to come together to fight COVID-level threats.
Masks in American culture should be viewed as lifesaving tools, rather than a threat.
Keegan Shoemaker (he/him) is a junior studying English.