Why I Won’t Quit Wearing a Mask

Claire Richmond avatar

by Claire Richmond |

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Waiting in the center aisle of the plane wearing a brown backpack and a blue surgical mask, I felt the eyes of strangers on me. It was February 2020, and my family was boarding an early morning flight to Orlando, on our way to Disney World for a little winter getaway. Little did any of us know that in a few short weeks the novelty of a face mask looped behind my ears would have worn way off.

That day, I woke up with a sore throat and a bit of a runny nose. Not knowing the nature of my symptoms or wanting to share my germs, I packed a stash of masks in my carry-on. At that point, I’d been receiving weekly intravenous treatments for nearly two years at an infusion center that mostly treated cancer patients. I learned about mask etiquette there.

While my immune system was not compromised in the same way as many of theirs, I was an honorary part of the collective and had a duty to protect them from any illness I was experiencing. I began wearing masks to the clinic any time I had a cold or flu symptom.

Fast-forward to the present, and most of us have been wearing face masks in public for the better part of 14 months. Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated mask guidelines for those who are vaccinated. Now, retail establishments and restaurants around the country are looking a little more like they were in pre-pandemic days.

I am not ready.

I have acute hepatic porphyria, and life-threatening attacks can be triggered by viruses of any kind. Last year, when my friends, neighbors, and surrounding community members donned masks, I felt protected. Stay-at-home orders were put in place to keep people like me safe.

It may seem counterintuitive to think that amid a pandemic I would actually feel safer out at my local pharmacy or the busy waiting room of the cancer center. It’s a testament to the comforting effect social distancing, increased awareness of spreading germs, and face masks had on my psyche. It’s also helpful that I live in a small, politically progressive community. People in my day-to-day respect and follow the CDC’s pandemic protocols.

The country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently responded to confusion about new federal guidelines on mask-wearing, saying there’s no “mandate to take your mask off.” Still, earlier this month, many friends who have strictly followed pandemic protocols all these months rejoiced in stripping off the thin piece of fabric from their faces, while others like me are unsure and content to stay covered, especially in crowded indoor situations.

My mask is not a political statement, it’s not about living in fear, nor is it about protecting myself from COVID-19. Just like my choice to receive a vaccine, my choice to continue wearing masks in large gatherings, especially when I have a sore throat or stuffy nose, is about protecting others.

With the success rates of the vaccines, I knew mask guidelines couldn’t last forever. What I hope does stick with people are lessons about virus spread and how wearing face masks can keep others safe.

Consider holding on to that stash of face masks you’ve amassed over the last year for those times when you’re not feeling 100%. Just as that runny nose you woke up with this morning may be a contagious virus, the person you sit next to on your next flight may be high risk, like me.

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Note: Porphyria News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Porphyria News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to porphyria.

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