Our editor emeritus Jeb Bing suggested on more than one occasion this spring, in our weekly Zoom staff meetings, that I take on the topic of face coverings.
The color-tiered restrictions were steadily easing at that time as vaccinations ramped up -- but what was the right thing to do with masking, as mandate became recommendation became nonessential?
I balked. The timing didn't seem right with the state's June 15 "reopening" date nearing and it appeared more and more likely we'd be saying goodbye to masks in most situations for good.
Or at least that's what I told myself. With some truth, sure, but holding off was also a calculated decision with probably a hint of cowardice. My words have weight (and repercussions) in this role, and it's daunting to have to deal with discussions so unnecessarily politicized.
There's no avoiding it now.
Masks are back, with local health officers requiring people to wear them in public indoor settings and urging them in crowded outdoor settings, amid the delta variant and rising COVID-19 hospitalizations almost exclusively among unvaccinated residents.
I'm not here to convince anybody. That's not in my nature here; plus folks are too entrenched at this point, although I acknowledge the stories of unvaccinated individuals coming 'round to the jab amid the delta scare.
Just sharing my perspective, as one example, like we might ask you to do if we were interviewing you for a story.
I support mask guidelines in concept. I wear masks in public settings, indoors and often outdoors except on the golf course. Since my inoculation took hold I wore cloth masks, but now I've returned to my pre-shot protocol of double-masking indoors, blue surgical mask underneath reusable cloth covering.
Basically, I view masking as something I can do to help. I well know the masks I most commonly use only serve to limit the spread of my respiratory droplets to others as opposed to protecting me from strangers. Although if they're masked too, I'm in better shape.
It boils down to me internalizing responsibility (to a fault, sometimes). I just don't want to face a reality where I didn't do everything I could before unknowingly exposing a loved one, a colleague or a bystander to COVID-19.
That's the way it was pre-vaccination, and now with the delta variant such transmission seems back in play, especially for unvaccinated youth.
So masking makes sense to me. And I admit it has little effect on my everyday personal life. I don't like wearing them, but I certainly don't hate it. It's just part of the routine, like putting on a fresh shirt in the morning.
I do hesitate at the term "mandate."
Not because the government is defining something as mandatory, which sure just sounds like their charge to me, but because unenforced and unfunded mandates are pet peeves of mine. Both political sides do it, and it's frustrating to no end. Of course, sometimes changing nothing, doing nothing, can be a costly mandate as well.
I get it. There was probably no practical way to enforce mask mandates in 2020. Police making misdemeanor arrests amid the social justice reform movement or agencies issuing fine-based citations to residents en masse in the middle of a pandemic would have been nonsensical.
But if we're going with "mandates" again, we need conversations on effective enforcement soon. An order that isn't enforced is inherently ineffectual; so is this truly a mandate?
I respect the authority that allows executive orders or health orders in specific circumstances, but the situation we're in may be so longstanding that we should shift to full public debates through the legislative process -- not only if this pandemic persists, but to properly prepare for future epidemics or pandemics.
And to be fair, as useful a tool as they may be, masks would rank lowest on my top-3 list for ending the pandemic, limiting the variants and eradicating COVID-19 for good.
First is clearly the innovative inoculation we're fortunate enough to have. I'm on-record there: Pfizer double-tap for me.
No. 2, and not talked about nearly enough in public discourse, is staying home and isolating if feeling sick. And not just for a confirmed COVID-19 case; with any symptoms potentially contagious.
I was among the worst offenders there before the pandemic, going to work with cold or flu-like symptoms. I think I'm being selfless sitting at my desk and "doing my job" when I'm not feeling well. I'm not. It's honestly more selfish, likely done out of personal pride or self-importance. I should not expose people to illness germs, and I'm probably not working at best anyway.
And I totally understand that there are individual situations where people feel the need to go to work, regardless, for financial reasons or because their employer won't cut any slack for illness -- the latter is unfortunate, since California has among the best sick leave protections in the country (remember unenforced mandates...). Still, avoiding contact is integral to preventing spread.
I also get a kick out of the current opposition to schools requiring students and staff to don masks. They regulate what kids wear every day in the dress code. And those rules exist, for what, uniformity reasons? Masks are a question of communal health, and individual health.
The same logic applies to businesses, for employees as a uniform or health requirement.
Customers too for that matter. I respect the letter and spirit of "No shirt, No service" rules -- even though I think those primarily have to do with public decency standards, not actual public health impacts like face coverings in the age of COVID. You know though, come to think of it, I've never really been a big fan of wearing shirts...
In the end, a sign I read outside a Pleasanton grocery store Tuesday pretty well sums up my approach to masking in public this summer:
"Wearing a mask shows we're all in this together. Spread kindness, not the virus."
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.