Wear a mask - a sign of respect and community

Kelly Spencer. (Contributed photo) jpg, TN

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If you had you asked a year ago what life would be like in 2020, I don’t think a single one of us would have imagined we would be in the situation we are in right now, that our lives would be changed so drastically.

It is incomprehensible that our “new normal” way of life would feel so astoundingly abnormal.

Mindfulness teaches us to accept the reality of the current moment. Does that mean this is not shocking to our body, mind and heart? No. Does mindfulness mean that we are not having a wave of emotions that at times we unsure how to process? Absolutely not.

Mindfulness asks us to observe this moment for all of its realities, harsh ones included and then with a place of acceptance of what is, as it currently is, we take authentic action for this current situation.

A simple example would be, if we asked ourselves how we are feeling and what emotions we are experiencing right here and right now and we concluded that we felt a mix of feeling both content and safe at home during this pandemic, contrasted by fear and worry of possibly contracting this virus, indeed, that would be a present moment awareness. That is how we are feeling in this current moment. Allowing this recognition of how we are truly feeling (and all feelings are valid), gives us the opportunity to then decide what action is required. We might conclude that the fear is natural but is perceived because we are taking every precaution necessary or we might conclude that we need to make changes to our current safe practices.

A safe practice change that I invite all to consider mindfully, while attempting to honor our current reality of life in a pandemic, is wearing a face mask in public.

My sister hasn’t left the house since January 23rd, 2020 without a mask on her face. She and my brother-in-law live in Hong Kong.

Here is what I know. My sister was close to ground zero. Meaning Hong Kong is just off the mainland of where the pandemic virus originated this time. Pandemics have originated from all places around the globe in history, this time it was China.

I often wondered why we were not wearing masks here in Canada or North America. At first the CDC (Centre of Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization) stated they were not needed nor necessary. They stated masks should be worn by those sick and medical workers. They emphasized that frequent hand washing and social distancing were the only key recommendations. There were conclusions that face masks don’t work and that the virus could still seep in around a loose improper face mask. They have now seen contrary evidence and made contrasting recommendation.

Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program stated as recent as last week, that “there is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of a mask by the mass populations has any potential benefit.” However, within less than one week, he opposed his own words and restated with recommendations that “masks, both home-made and cloth, at the community level may help with an overall comprehensive response to this disease.”

Translation… wear a mask.

When you look back in the history of pandemics, it seems to me that Asia had it right all along, this time. China, Hong Kong and some places like Taiwan and the Philippines even made masks mandatory for mass community protection.

Mask wearing certainly was the case during the influenza pandemic of 1918, which lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, and infected one-third of the world’s population, or about 500 million people, leading to about 50 million deaths globally. (Note: this was during a time when most didn’t have indoor plumbing yet and lack of proper hand washing would have been a key factor.)

During that pandemic, wearing a mask was made law and mandatory in public. In fact, during the pandemic in the United States, anyone found outdoors without a mask could be fined or even imprisoned.

When I observe that my sister and her husband have continued to work, practice social distancing and wear masks whenever in public I have to think this is the way to go, and ponder why are we so slow to follow suit?

Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million people and a population density of 7,000 people per square mile. Imagine a square mile, and put 7,000 people in it. Now imagine, Ontario with its population of 14.3 million and our approximate population density is 36 people per square mile.

Hong Kong, during its first wave of COVID-19, only had about 250 cases. Their infection curve started to flatten and decline quickly and life was almost back to normal. My sister stated the disease control was because they all just knew what they had to do.

“Hong Kong had been through SARS, so as soon as this came out, people starting wearing masks and practice social distancing immediately. They didn’t have to be told.”

Unfortunately, Hong Kong had a second wave of the virus due to travellers. The totals now for Hong Kong are 890 positive cases and 4 deaths.

Ontario has 2,591 cases of April 6th and 132 deaths.

China has a population of 1.386 billion people and they have 81,700 cases and 3,331 deaths. And as tragic as these numbers are for China, they pale compared to the United States.

The US has a population of 327 million (about 25% of the population of China) and there are about 350,000 positive cases of COVID with 10,327 deaths. It should also be noted that China’s case curve has flattened and lowered the amount of new cases per day to about 30 people, while in the USA new cases yesterday were 13,300 (known).

Although I was a registered nurse for many years, I am no expert on this. What I know to be true though is a mask helped me stay safe for many years as nurse and that these numbers tell us important information about the present moment reality.

I also know that, for some damn reason, I can’t stop touching my face since being told to quit touching my face and wearing a mask when in public where I can possibly contract the virus through touching, will assist me. I also know that while good and very frequent handwashing assists with eliminating contraction, if we all wear a mask in public, it will assist with contraction through contagions from talking, coughing and sneezing.

As my sister says, “you wear a mask in public out of respect for everyone. It’s a sign of community. It clearly works.”

Does living mindfully mean that we don’t have moments of missing life before this, or worries about our future? It does not. But, mindfully acknowledging our current reality, accepting it, and taking appropriate action can help us.

(Please Note: I completely understand that these strange days are hard to process physically, emotionally and mentally. If you would like assistance with a virtual or phone session with a Social Worker, please contact inaracounselling@gmail.com. If you would like to boost your mindfulness toolbox, please contact me at kelly@indigolounge.ca)