Wearing a face mask took some learning

Mike Jiggens

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Back in April, I predicted it would be mandated that masks be worn upon entry into grocery stores and other places of business. This was still in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the curve had yet to flatten. It just seemed like the logical thing to do.

As it happened, it would take another two months before individual jurisdictions began to make masks mandatory. In a sense, it was like closing the barn doors after the horses escaped.

It wasn’t until about the third week of June that I made my mask-wearing debut. I had no need to wear one previously as my wife did all the grocery shopping, banking, etc. I waited alone in the car while she tended to business. But I needed to put one on at the registration desk at our campground, so I donned one that had been hand-made from pieces of cloth. It fit well and was beautifully constructed. It was also made from three layers of fabric to maximize the trapping of any droplets, and was black in colour. This was also at the height of the early summer heat wave.

I barely made it through the five minutes I was required to wear it. Breathing through three layers of black material in such extreme heat was a challenge. I decided to set that particular mask aside for winter wear – assuming masks will still need to be worn when the snow flies. Still, I realized that full-scale mask-wearing was imminent and I’d have to learn to wear one more frequently and for longer than five minutes at a time.

I had a few of the disposable masks on hand and chose to wear one during a grocery shopping run while on that same camping trip, even though masks were still optional at that point in that particular jurisdiction. I needed to prove to myself that I could successfully wear one and for longer than five minutes. I considered it a dress rehearsal for what was soon to be a universal requirement.

The disposable-type mask was much lighter and easier to breathe through, and I managed to endure wearing it for the full 30 minutes I was inside the grocery store. But I learned the hard way that there are certain things that should be done to enhance the mask-wearing experience. First, it’s a good idea to have a pack of Tic-Tacs close at hand or perhaps a roll of Clorets. If you’ve just eaten a hamburger with onions prior to putting on a mask, you’re going to either want to slip in a breath freshener or refrain from making conversation for as long as the mask is on your face. Breathing in the bounce-back of your own breath is pretty nasty without a Tic-Tac or Cloret.

Second, make sure you pinch down on the wire nose piece to ensure a snug fit. I didn’t bother doing that at the outset and found my mask rode up to my eyelids and actually trapped my bottom lashes, not only making breathing more challenging, but also seeing.

There’s actually an upside to wearing a mask, aside from the obvious. People who wear dentures can say, “the heck with it,” and leave their teeth at home to go grocery shopping, and no one’s going to know the difference. Masks also nicely hide cold sores, acne, fat lips, poorly-groomed mustaches and all sorts of other things.

And there are some really cool-looking masks out there. The mask-making business, sadly, will have the same lifespan as the Betamax tape-manufacturing industry. Designer mask makers know they’re in it for the short term, and consumers certainly hope that’s the case as well.

But mask-wearing is the new reality, and we have to get used to it until further notice.