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Scripting a New Mask Masque

May 5th, 2022 by dk

To mask or not to mask, that was the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to allow the virus to spread or to take arms and plexiglass and refuse handshakes to end its commutation. We remain in the epidemic’s thrall, as if we’re actors on its stage, unable to resist its direction.

But chill! These last few months have been an intermission. Death rates have fallen and COVID-19’s impositions have lessened. The variants become more contagious, but their impact less severe — at least among the vaccinated.

The numbers and the trend lines indicate a new wave may be coming. Now is the moment to remind ourselves that we are scripting this evening of theatre, even if we are not directing the drama. The newest variant has blinked the lobby lights. We may soon have to return to our seats, before the lights dim.

We don’t have to return expecting a second act that builds on the first — more masking, more distancing, more precautions, more suspicion, more contention, more exhaustion. We could see what’s ahead as an entirely different play on the same topic — an evening of one-acts. This next production features an important new character — the vaccine.

All our initial precautions were put in place to prevent the virus from spreading. That made sense for four reasons. We didn’t know what we were up against. The illness that resulted was severe and sometimes deadly. Our best hope was to reach herd immunity, causing the virus to die out. That was our only real hope, because we had no vaccine.

None of those conditions are true today. We have vaccines that are amazingly effective, at least so far. As the virus mutates, it has followed a predicted pattern of becoming more contagious and less deadly. We’ve lost any hope of reaching herd immunity, because travel restrictions and gulags for the infected haven’t worked.

We should recognize these updates, while we’re still clinking our glasses and stretching our legs. Because this show will continue and we’ve already had our parking validated for the entire evening.

I propose that Oregon be one of the first blue states not to require performative mask usage when the next spike hits, unless the next variant delivers equally dire outcomes to the vaccinated and the unvaccinated alike.

We don’t have to watch the same show over and over again. Masks don’t work very well, at least not the ones and the way most people use them. The vaccinated so far have avoided most mortal danger. The vast majority of those who are not vaccinated have made that choice for themselves.

I understand that some cannot be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons. Senior citizens and the obese face greater danger. These factors are real and true and sad. But we haven’t removed all sharp corners in society because hemophiliacs could bleed to death. They just have to be more careful and that’s the way it is.

Children have suffered more from remote learning than they have from classroom infections. Working remotely has been a boon for white collar workers, and unavailable to everyone else. Class divisions have widened and resentments have deepened. No one has developed a remedy to cure what’s ailing societies. All our strategic separations from one another only make these societal sores fester.

What will bring us together? Fighting the virus didn’t. Herd immunity is no longer a realistic hope. What now? Not more of the same! I can think of only one thing that could bring everyone together.

Virtue signaling aside, nobody likes wearing a mask or feeling afraid of other people. So why don’t we just stop doing it and see what happens?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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