It’s April and after another especially long winter, it appears spring is upon us. For warmer states, the transition between seasons may be unceremonious. But I hail from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and for me and many northerners, the thaw is accompanied by certain rituals that presage the onset of fairer weather.
By the end of winter, we’re all a little defeated and sun-deprived. Our clothes and cars and garages are ravaged by the snow and salt. One ritual seeks to remedy this: spring cleaning.
Spring cleaning is not somebody’s idea of a good time. The work is monotonous and can sometimes amount to drudgery, but it’s also hopeful. Easter is around the corner and with spring comes new beginnings. Most of the tasks I’m responsible for are pretty routine. I have a checklist and a method to the way I do things, maybe you do too. Nonetheless, there is one item I have added to my list that may pose a quandary this year in particular — old and unused COVID masks.
Sure, omicron spread with abandon in December and January in spite of our magic masks. A lot of us got the sniffles. Too many kids missed school. Too many teachers skipped school. According to the Centers for Disease Control, we should still be concerned. Tape the letters of the Greek alphabet to a dartboard and see what you hit — that’s the variant we’re on. Nonetheless, even the CDC is willing to admit that we can begin to move on.
Months of dubious mandates and onerous restrictions mean that many of us have piles of masks that just won’t fit in our storage closets. If you also struggle with what to do with your COVID kit, I offer these suggestions:
The media warned that hospitals were in dire need of PPE and while they didn’t run out, they may take solace in having a more abundant stock. Of course, they won’t want your ragged bandanas, your neck gators, or even your K-N95 masks. N-95 only. If we learned one thing during the pandemic, it was that nothing made in China works.
Not only will this be cathartic, but it also presents an opportunity to reconnect with your neighbors by inviting them to a bonfire. Your Democrat neighbors will undoubtedly decline, as they found you leaving the house and holding maskless barbecues during the pandemic to be reprehensible. Still, you might have new neighbors and you will be able to see which of your old neighbors moved to red states where they are almost surely enjoying the bliss of unencumbered freedom.
This is my favorite solution. The coronavirus was a global phenomenon that wrought death and destruction upon millions, if not billions of people, and further ruptured our deep partisan divide. Extend an olive branch to your neighbor, your fellow citizen. Gather your masks, your tests, whatever you feel you no longer need and you know your neighbor can’t get enough of. Go to their house. It may be a moment before they open the door, but once they see you’ve come with a peace offering, they will open it. They will be wearing a mask and a face shield. You will wonder if they aged in the past two years. They must have, under such crippling stress. Don’t sneeze. Whatever you do, do not sneeze. Hand over your PPE and attempt to calm them. Tell them you were thinking of them and that it will be okay. Tell them that you understand. After all, you know a mask has become part of their identity. They will nod and give a muffled, polite laugh. Suggest a compromise to them: they can keep their mask and wear it like an armband – that way they can breathe freely and still communicate their values.
Spring is about rebirth. Let’s take a deep breath and appreciate our blessings.
Russ Darrow is a Milwaukee-based writer who gave up wearing his mask for Lent.