I take the subway every day. Multiple times. I love the subway. It’s been called the circulatory system of the city. In March and April 2020, I missed the subway more than anything else.
In May 2020, I returned to it, months before most of my colleagues, peers, family, friends. I just couldn’t bear being kept away. Add to that? I genuinely felt safe.
Maybe I was kidding myself. Maybe not. But. I’ve used the subway more days than not since May 2020, and I have yet to contract my first COVID infection. (I’ve tested myself no less than every two weeks, and weekly, most of the time, since testing became possible – first, PCR at my local urgent care, and then, antigen tests at home.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about masking recently, as an early 50s off and on smoker, vaccinated, double boosted, who lost a peer and a couple others at a distance to the plague. I’ve been wondering, as I ride the subway, just what it is that explains the differences in masking behavior at this late stage of the pandemic, when something like a third to a half of us continue to mask, and a half to two-thirds are simply done with it.
I’m in that first group, my mask still resolutely fastened to my face, my breath heating it, my air flow constrained, my pulse slightly elevated. I no longer mask in fear: I neither have the fantasy that masking protects me all that much, nor do I imagine that the plague itself would likely kill me (in spite of my continued lack of evidence to this effect). No. I wear my mask for two reasons:
1. It is, actually, still the law on public transportation.
2. I do believe that masking generally drives down infections, which in turn drives down deaths.
So it’s more than anything a sort of civic-minded decision to bear a personal cost for the benefit of the greater good. (The greater good.)
And what of the others making the same individual quixotic decision?
On the train today, my masked compatriots included:
A late 50s/early 60s Asian woman whose carriage suggested English isn’t her first language (and a dialect of Chinese is).
A 30-something Black man who looked to be on his way to a municipal clerical job, if I had to guess.
A late 20s Black man on his way to a construction job, judging by his boots and hard hat.
An early 20s Black woman headed to a college class?
A 40-something Latinx guy, chubby, headed – I would guess – home after a night shift in a security job.
A 30-something Black woman headed to a social service job, judging by the name tag hanging from her neck.
An Indian guy, 30s, whom I would imagine working in a deli or news stand.
Notice a theme here? I do.
I was, literally, the only white person wearing a mask.
THAT is interesting. No?