MY SURVEY RESULTS ARE IN
That is still the question.
A holiday-sized group of passengers was recently gathered in the waiting area of Terminal Two Gate 4, ready to board a flight from San Francisco to Bozeman, MT. The unmasked outnumbered the masked by roughly fifteen to one — this despite the Please Wear A Mask signs on every wall and the news full of stories about the “triple-demic.”
With an hour to spare before departure — the highway traffic and TSA Pre-Check gods having been with me — I put on my (masked) Ace Reporter face and undertook a random survey. This is only advised if you are extremely cautious in finding approachable respondents. It also helps to be a harmless grandmother type. And it is wise to approach only the genuinely bored, who are staring into space as if they wished someone might approach them with a survey question. You can always find them, even if you have to wander down to Gate E or Gate D.
Style is equally important. Ideally, the reporter wheels her carry-on to a vacant seat one or two seats away from the target, but an adjacent seat is okay, and standing in lines is perfect. Once you’ve settled quietly into position, allow an appropriate interval of time to elapse — say, 30 seconds or so, during which it’s good to stare into space yourself. Then, with your best behind-the-mask smile in place, you’re ready to begin.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” my survey opened. One potential respondent furrowed his brow, and another did the serious eyebrow-raising thing, but nobody told me to get lost — in so many words. Almost everyone seemed agreeable.
This survey wanted to find out why these good people were wearing masks, how they felt about so many non-maskers hanging around everywhere, and when they think masks will finally be history. Below are my key findings.
Nobody even wanted to guess about when the world will be safely unmasked. “2033?,” said a young woman in a University of Virginia sweatshirt. Perhaps.
A high percentage of mask-wearers have already had covid. “I’ve had it twice,” said one middle-aged woman in a furry black cap, “and you don’t want to mess with this virus. I don’t care that much about others right now. I keep the mask on for my own protection.”
Said a young man in the coffee bar line, “I have long covid; I can still barely smell the coffee. Those unmasked folks might think they’re fine, but I am not taking any chances.”
That focus on personal safety, as opposed to altruistic motives for mask-wearing, seems to have markedly increased. One or two survey respondents referred to “keeping all those others safe,” but without any particular animosity toward “those others” who might be unwittingly spreading germs.
Which was another finding of my research: hostility between maskers and anti-maskers, once almost palpable, seems to have faded a little. At least if you can believe the Gate F crowd. It was barely a year ago that an unmasked passerby almost declared war on my innocently masked self on a San Francisco street. My outdoor mask, which was mandated at the time, led him to conclude I had to be some Fauci-loving liberal commie covid freak.
Fear of encountering someone of that sort might have led me to skip the unmasked entirely. In any event, I left them alone. Going maskless is their business, I decided; and I avoid arguments great and small.
So I stuck with the fully masked. A family of five waiting for a flight to the east coast seemed happy to talk about masks, as well as holiday travel. “It just makes sense,” said the mom, whose eyes were sparkly above her jet-black mask. “The kids have gotten used to wearing them and I figure we’ll keep the habit until the risks are small and the viruses fewer.”
At which point the youngest kid looked up at me with the winning response, “We’re going to see our Gran.”