Yes, Virginia, you still need to wear a mask.
The day after I learned that Massachusetts was offering free COVID-19 testing at a location near me, I called and made an appointment. I drove to the site at the Lawrence General Hospital parking lot the next day, and less than five minutes later, after some unpleasantness with my nose, was on my way home. Forty-eight hours later, I learned the test result was negative. I was relieved. I could stop worrying that I would accidentally kill my 96-year-old mother by giving her SARS-CoV-2.
The next time I went outside, I wore a mask, one of the cloth masks I bought back in March. I’ve been wearing a mask religiously ever since that negative test. Before the test, if I forgot the mask when I took out the dog, I would shrug and tell myself, “Next time.” Now, I go back and get it.
I’m SARS-CoV-2 negative, but I’m still anxious. It isn’t only that the position of the Trump administration scares me. The idea that there are more infections because we are doing more testing is ludicrous. It’s also innumerate. Testing tells you something about how many infections are likely to exist at a particular time. It’s a snapshot and an approximation. But testing does not cause the number of whatever is being tested. It tells you about reality; it doesn’t create reality. (By the way, often, about two weeks after an increase in infections, there is an increase in deaths. It’s hard to get more real than death.)
I’m still anxious because at the grocery store, people wear a mask, but don’t use it to cover their noses. One day, I watched a man pull his mask away from his face to sneeze and cough. He didn’t even bother to sneeze into his arm.
I read the COVID-19 news like it’s a magic ritual that will protect me from illness. Most of the time it just contributes to my anxiety. But every once in a while, I read something useful. The latest research shows that wearing a mask reduces the number of viral particles that get into your nose (“Masks May Reduce Viral Dose, Some Experts Say”).
I’m not wearing my mask to protest dangerously foolish or rude behavior. I’m wearing a mask because it decreases my exposure to virus particles as well as yours. I’m wearing a mask because a COVID-19 test is a snapshot in time. My status was negative on July 31, 2020. Who knows what it is now?
And, anyhow, I have to take care of my mom.