COVID Wager: to mask or not to mask

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Photo by Colin Lancaster

Of the many risks that are associated with my heart condition, I never would have predicted that my susceptibility to infectious disease would ultimately prevent me from returning to UD this fall. But then again, as we are daily reminded, no one could have predicted COVID-19. 

I’m far safer here at home as a young adult with a congenital heart defect: my rent is free, I have limited external contact and my landlady and lord go by the names of Mom and Dad. I even have one of my older brothers here with me, likewise displaced by the virus. And yet, it seems that I’ve somehow been cheated out of my senior year. 

To take online classes from mid-March until May is one thing. To take them for a full semester, with the knowledge that another semester online may follow–my last one at UD–is entirely another. 

Like many of my peers, I struggle with both major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. These issues are compounded by quarantine and exacerbated by online learning. It can be a feat of strength to even get out of bed at times, so low is my motivation to learn, or to do anything at all.

Often I will stare into space in bouts of absurdism, demanding what is the point of all of this, if I cannot live out in reality the days which so many tell me are the best of my life.

My father recently told me that I would’ve been uneasy about my health if I were at UD, and he’s right. But still, I wonder which is worse: to be excessively uneasy at UD, or to be extraordinarily lonely at home? 

Hearing about UD’s coronavirus policies is a bit like watching a news report of civil unrest in the Middle East. I may not be directly affected by the turmoil, but I can certainly feel it. 

One such instance would be UD’s ridiculous McCarthyism of anonymously reported coronavirus violations, which have since thankfully been dropped as school policy. 

Another, hardly unique to UD, is the interminable contention of masks and social distancing, the flouting of which could easily cost my life. 

To paraphrase and reapply Pascal’s Wager: if somehow the virus turns out to be a hoax, or if masks ultimately prove to be ineffective, then at worst you will have worn a silly, ineffectual piece of cloth across your face. If, however, there is even a chance that the pandemic is real, and that masks do work, then you will have protected both yourself and others at risk from contracting and suffering from a potentially deadly virus.

I have been told that I am self-interested in my defense of masks.

 This is of course true because everyone is naturally self-interested to a degree. But if we draw out the implications of this statement, we could say that I promote the wearing of them simply because I would die without them, as would others at high risk.

I hope it is obvious that this is a valid incentive, and not an attempt to, as some might say,  “infringe personal liberties” or “give in to authoritarianism.” 

What is far more difficult than wearing a mask, and that which I must endure partly because others do not wear them is the horrible void that is a life without others.

As wonderful as technology is, Zoom cannot hug me as tightly as my dear ones at UD would, FaceTime cannot catch the full glory and spontaneity of experiencing life in person and in community. There is a literal disconnect between students on campus and students at home, regardless of our strong internet connections.

Technology can only do so much, whether it be the dutiful and inclusive online activities for school or conversations on the phone with a close friend. But no one can replace the contentment of physically being in the presence of a loved one, of loving that person and being loved in return. 

I don’t pretend to offer a solution to this fog. It seems to me that this is simply just something that must be endured. And I suppose that I can do that. 

Even so, I’m still waiting for this much-vaunted “return to normal” that everyone keeps announcing, as if for the promise of a messiah at dawn. 

I don’t think it’d be wise to hold my breath and wait for that–breathing is pretty valuable these days.

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