It looks like the mask debate is taking off in North America and I think a few things should be emphasized about their use. Before I do that, I’d just like to say, calm down. Take a breath. Don’t panic.

Smiling below masks.

Okay, so let’s get started.

The first thing you need to know is that masks do not make you invincible. The authorities seem to be doing a pretty good job of telling people that the masks are about preventing you from acting as a spreader. That’s important to know. This is the mental space you need to be in. If masks help you think this way –to see yourself as a problem– that in itself is pretty damn important shit right there. We’re all the problem. The mask should remind us of this.

They should remind you to stay at home.

If you’re depending on a mask to keep you safe in a certain space? You really probably should not be in that space. The same thing goes for that 6ft rule. If you’re depending on those six feet, you probably shouldn’t even be in that spot — not if you can possibly avoid it. If you have to be outside, by all means, wear a mask and keep your distance. That helps. Neither of these things are nearly as important as just staying home. So stay home.

Stay home.

You should not be in a position where you need a mask.

It is also important to remember that there is a shortage of medical grade masks and these masks are a priority for the front lines. These are the people dealing with open wounds. These are the people dealing with the most vulnerable people. Think of it as being a bit like soap. If you personally don’t have soap, yeah, that’s not great. If doctors and nurses don’t have soap? That kills people dead.

Why should you remember this? Just so you don’t lose your goddamn mind and start thinking you need all the medical grade equipment you can find. This equipment is better in other hands. A Korean commercial about our mask ration starts with something like “I’m okay, you go first.” Keep that shit in mind. Are you okay? Then let someone who isn’t as okay go first. To do this, you need to relax about the mask thing. It’s not cure-all or a magic potion. It’s not a vaccine and it’s probably less important than washing your hands and definitely not as good as staying at home. You can just just about anything to cover those holes in your face, so be satisfied with those things until the large-scale manufacturing of masks catches up to the problem. In the meantime, a scarf or some such is fine.

And, if you’re at home, where you should be, you don’t even need that.

The masks probably have some important cumulative medical impact and they are, also, an important social signal that shows community spirit. This is important to remember. A mask should not make you feel safe, they should not say that you’re afraid or imply that you’re diseased, and they should not say any of these things about anyone you see in one. They’re not harbingers of doom. (Unlike, say, these fucking crows outside my window.) The mask says that you’re doing your part. Even the silly parts of your part. You’re doing it. The mask makes that statement. So you’ve been told that your part now includes wearing a mask?

Then wear a fucking mask.

Have community spirit!

But mainly stay at home.

And this social signalling thing isn’t just some bullshit. It’s important. I don’t know if any of you are in this head-space yet or if you will be, but even in Korea, where the president is not lying every time he opens his mouth and is acting in accord with science, even in a situation that is about the best you can hope for, you are still facing an invisible foe. It’s a thing you only see as it works on other people. So, when you see other people just being like ‘fuck it, let’s go to the beach’ or “well, the park seems like a decent place to spend an afternoon’ it can be hard to keep focused and to feel sane. You can start to doubt reality. Seeing masks are a good reminder that you are not crazy and you are not alone and things are not, in fact, normal. Social signalling is really important. Seeing masks can help you keep your grip.

Keep your grip. See those masks but from home!

The crows have no community spirit!

Stay home.

Masks are not a magic bullet. I only mention this because there was a Canadian on the news show here and he seemed to think that mask-use may explain Korea’s success (to date – knock on wood) in flattening the curve. That success is is made of a lot of things. But masks? Maybe they’re a minor part of this success but this success can mainly be attributed to the quality of the healthcare system, and TRACE, TEST, TREAT. You need a well organized system of tracing, testing, and treating. All three. And more besides, but definitely all three of those. And that’s just a start. Those three things on huge and organized scales is just a start. That’s table stakes. Nothing more. It is just a beginning.

So what does this mean?

TRACE: The health authorities have to be able to track your movements and who you have been in contact with. One person gone rogue here resulted in 500 tests. This shit is detective work. It is necessary. Aside from directing testing and treatment, thus making the best possible use of resources, tracing prevented a lock-down. Not for the first time.

TEST: Unless you test, you don’t even know what the hell is going on. You only know that the situation is a lot fucking worse than you think. That is not a great way to feel. Aside from how this testing helps keeps the spread down, allows health professionals to react with accuracy and speed, and to treat cases early –which is so important in saving lives– the tests also keep morale up. You got a cough? You should be able to call a number, go somewhere, get a test quickly, and know the results before tomorrow. Maybe it puts your mind at rest or maybe you need a doctor. Either way, testing is a bit like when you finally see the monster in the horror movie. Yeah, it’s bad and scary but seeing it eases your fear.

TREAT: Medical care has to be free and of high quality and easily available to everyone, regardless of this or that status, or this, that, or the other thing. Early treatment prevents death. Treating early save lives.

And to these, I would add TRANSPARENCY. This data has to be relayed to the public, the best available understanding of its meaning has to be relayed to the public, and this all has to be done in a really organized, calm, cool, and collected way from trustworthy figures.

And, please, STAY AT HOME.

Without keeping all these other things in mind — that masks don’t make you invincible and you just need to stay the fuck at home– and without an organized effort towards TRACE, TEST, AND TREAT, masks are only a sort of masturbation. Let’s call it, I dunno, maskurbation. And that’s fine. Aside from its assortment of health benefits, masturbation is a pretty cheerful activity, and a perfectly respectable hobby. (Unlike model trains – what the fuck is the matter with those people anyway? Like what has to go wrong in your life to make you turn your whole basement over to model trains when it could be a completely serviceable sex dungeon? That model train thing creeps me out.) Masturbation can be quite comforting. So can maskurbation. So, go right ahead. Maskurbate away. But without that other shit? That trace, test, and treat? Without you staying at home? Without all of that stuff fast and free and available in industrial quantities, a mask ain’t shit.

Stay at home, masturbate or play with your model trains or masturbate on your model trains or whatever you do with those things (fuck the tunnel? – I just don’t get it), wash your hands, maybe wear your favorite leather mask and rubber suit, but, mainly, just stay at home.

Masks are fine. Don’t stress them too much. After a few months, you can look forward to finding exposed mouths pornographic — if, indeed, you do not already. You will also learn to smile with your eyes and to see smiling eyes. There are bright sides. Foggy glasses is not one of them. Keep calm, friends. And from my family to yours:

Stay at home and hail Satan.

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