This summer right before Delta, I got asked to give a talk in person in the fall. I was feeling optimistic. New cases were down to the single digits in my town, DC1 was vaccinated, and it seemed likely DC2 would start the vaccination process in early fall, maybe September. So I said yes! And I bought plane tickets.
Then Delta hit. My county is getting 150-200/100,000 new cases a day (which may be an undercount because it is not always easy to get a same-day test). DC1 has been exposed at school at least 6 times, maybe 7 (I literally lost count after the fifth time, plus I missed checking one day last week). About 7% of the students in our school district have been diagnosed with Covid since school started.
But… the place where I was giving a talk had both a vaccine and mask mandate, so … safer than me teaching my class which has neither.
Still, I had to *get* to the place.
I chose to wear N95 Respokare masks for the airplane portions of my trip. These are extremely good but also expensive ($10/each for a disposable mask!). When they’re fit perfectly I cannot smell my fancy Bath and Bodyworks hand sanitizer. Even when not fitting perfectly, all smells are muted. Except the smell of my breath, which turns out gets worse and worse as the day goes on without taking the mask off. They are not incredibly comfortable– after removing it I definitely had lines on my cheeks. The head straps can take some adjusting as well and don’t necessarily play well with pony tails.
During my day at the place I was talking, I just wore a much more comfortable Botn KN94 and did not have to smell my breath. Everyone else was nicely masked indoors and mostly masked outdoors. It was all really great and I felt a bit rejuvenated work-wise.
HOWEVER. The rest of the world was not great.
The airport in my state wasn’t so bad– there were some noses, but not a whole lot of flagrant violations of not wearing masks except for people genuinely eating. And these folks were pretty easy to avoid because there was a lot of space.
At the Hilton hotel in the state I went to, none of the front desk workers were wearing masks. The only employees who were wearing masks were minority women (mostly cleaning staff, but also the woman at the concierge/parking desk outside), and nobody else was masked. The white woman who seemed to be in charge got pretty angry at me “I’m fully vaccinated I do not need to mask” (silence from me) “FINE” when I asked if there was anybody working the front desk with a mask. She went back to find a mask and never came back after yelling at me. I’m not sure if I’m actually checked out of that hotel.
The taxi driver at the airport was masked, but the one from the hotel was not. I asked him to put one on and he did. I should have taken an uber!
The big problem was the airport in the other city. At least 40% of the people there were not masked or were wearing masks inappropriately. I could not find any place to sit down that was not within 6 feet of an unmasked jackhole. Literally. I would find a gate where a flight had just left and sit down, and a few minutes later, some guy would come by and then sit behind me and take his mask off. Or a woman would sit next to me and then take her mask off to talk on the phone. I started swearing at people. I saw that one masked woman found a single spot lonely on the floor near where they were doing construction (far from any gates) to sit unbothered, but I didn’t want to bother her. I took a picture of some asshole employee who was walking all over the airport wearing her mask well below her nose and she took the entire mask off and smiled at me and thanked me for taking her picture. It was terrifying and exhausting. And of course my flight was delayed. Usually I’m able to sit down at an airport and read a novel and just kind of chill out. Constant vigilance is NOT FUN.
Did I mention that the other city has one of the highest covid rates in the country right now? I did not move my mask even to drink until I got to my home state airport.
Readers, I will not be traveling to an airport at any point in the near future. I will probably continue to not leave my home/work/library front desk routine. And after DC2 is fully vaccinated, I will likely limit my air travel to places that aren’t terrifying.