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Mask Up (Everywhere)

My mom heard it on the radio around 7 p.m. last Thursday and she broke the news to me a few minutes later.

Putain. Our turn now.”

It happened faster than we had thought but we weren’t surprised. One by one, French cities and towns have been making face masks mandatory outdoors for a couple of weeks now. Le Monde’s headlines were getting ridiculous—“masks mandatory outdoors in Lille! In Paris! In Rennes! In Nantes! In some fancy beach resort! In bumfuck nowhere!”

Of course, officials in Nantes would follow suit—it’s a big city, why wouldn’t it?

I can’t help it—every time a new COVID-19 restriction or measure is announced, I get this weird feeling of oppression. Not political persecution obviously, but mental pressure, some kind of malaise. It means things are not getting any better, for a start. Then it makes me wonder where we’re going with this pandemic and how far governments are willing to go to fight it. I mean, if a year ago you would have been told that borders were closed, you had to stay home for weeks, all businesses were shut down and the police was fining people for not wearing a face mask, you would have laughed (nervously), right?

I hate that the decision to wear (or not) a mask in public has become a political statement, especially in the US. I don’t really understand why some people are so angry about face masks. I started wearing mine when they became mandatory in indoor public spaces early July in both Canada and France—incidentally, I think they may have been more useful during the first pandemic peak but we couldn’t find them anywhere in Ottawa—and I did get used to it. Anecdotal, obviously, but I’m pretty sure we’re all in the same boat. We don’t like masks but hey, that’s the way it is.

I don’t support Trump, I don’t think COVID-19 is a hoax and I don’t think masks are “violating my freedoms.”

But can I still complain about the latest mask decision for a second?

Wearing a mask makes sense to me indoors. Sure, they probably aren’t that necessary when stores or buses are empty but such places tend to be crowded. No worries, it’s a small price to pay for peace of mind and to protect vulnerable people.

But it wearing a mask in the street is a pain in the ass. First, it basically comes down to wearing a mask pretty much all the time except at home. It’s a logistical nightmare because masks must be changed once in a while, washed and put on with clean hands. Oh, and good luck when it’s raining… Second, people start taking shortcuts because it is harder to breathe and talk with a mask on—so you see noses out and masks on chins. Third, the paradox is that you’re walking by large groups in packed restaurants and bars where customers do not wear a mask because obviously, they’re drinking and eating.

As far as I understand, the risk of getting sick just walking past people in the street is low. The news report that currently, transmission most occur at work or during indoor parties. But who wants to shut the country down again? No one.

It feels like governments are grasping at straws. At least, making masks mandatory outdoors doesn’t hurt the economy.

Meanwhile, like most French, I wear my mask around my arm—trust French people to turn anything into a fashion statement—and put it on if I spot the police or if streets are actually crowded.

“There’s no way I can bike with a face mask on,” I heard a guy complaining to three of his friends in a café. “I just can’t breathe!”

“Put it down on your chin,” a friend suggested.

“But it defies the purpose!”

The other friend shrugged. “Hey, it’s better than nothing.”

That’s the spirit… or not.

Place Royale, Nantes, August 2020
Place Royale, Nantes, August 2020
Rue de la Marne, Nantes, August 2020
Rue de la Marne, Nantes, August 2020
On the boat across the Loire River, Nantes
On the boat across the Loire River, Nantes
Cours Franklin Roosevelt, Nantes, August 2020
Cours Franklin Roosevelt, Nantes, August 2020

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