Linus had his security blanket. My son had his stuffed puppy dog. Now, for millions of Americans, they have their masks. A salve for the COVID-19 crippled, masks have become a present reminder of the damage the pandemic has done emotionally and psychologically to millions of Americans.
America’s struggle with mental health has been exacerbated by what researchers and the NIH now call Coronaphobia, severe anxiety associated with the pandemic.
A lot of Americans, myself included, find themselves struggling with how to handle and what to think about those mask-clingers in this post-pandemic environment. We look at them and wonder why they hang on to some thin piece of fabric or odd masking practices that run counter to science and common sense. I recoil from watching parents mask their children, who are statistically not at risk from the virus.
We’ve all seen these folks. A woman on a plane wearing a see-through mesh mask. Another who keeps the mask on in the air but takes it off after landing. A child is masked in a pool. The parent who makes their otherwise healthy kid wear a mask but won’t herself. A jogger masked outside in the summer heat. The person driving masked in the car alone.
In just the last month I’ve seen them all and many more. It’s increasingly frustrating and I feel bad about such a visceral reaction.
After more than two years of shifting government mandates and misinformation from politicians, the media, the medical community and Big Pharma, the mask is now an outward symbol of the paranoia many Americans have been conditioned to feel.
When COVID-19 was truly novel, there were real unknowns and uncertainties. Yes, some people are indeed severely immunocompromised. Their conditions are so extreme they’ve been counseled by a physician that they should wear a mask. For that very small minority, there is a rational basis.
For the vast majority of today’s mask-wearers, it’s not about rationality. It’s a sign of paranoia or latent phycological issues exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s a symbol of the damage done to millions of people who feel the irrational need to mask because they believe they are at some grave risk, however statistically insignificant or scientifically disproven.
The psychological damage from the mishandling of the pandemic, from the White House to Big Tech is proving to be more dangerous than the virus. Because of these mental health impacts, millions may never recover from a virus that won’t ever truly threaten their lives.
We now know that virtually every American has either contracted COVID-19 or will, likely multiple times. We know even those, like President Joe Biden, who are constantly masked and triple vaccinated can get COVID-19. These simple, scientific facts and others including natural immunity and viral mutations, mean the mortality rate for the virus is far lower than the government estimated.
COVID-19 is now just one of a host of other viruses we manage. People come in contact with an average of 60,000 different types of germs every day. A 2014 study showed that 92% of healthy people harbored at least one virus at all times with some having 10-15 viruses.
Long before COVID-19 and the masking obsession, Americans were dealing with viruses and germs every day by doing little more than washing their hands and being smart enough to not lick the pole on the subway. It was a very low bar – and we survived.
Coronaphobia has become so embedded in the psyche that even a police officer responding to the Uvalde massacre was spotted on camera using hand sanitizer in the hallway of the school while children were being shot to death.
We must be patient and empathetic with these people. They shouldn’t be shamed or the subject of anger or ridicule. For more than two years, their government and media stoked fear and panic.
That callous disregard for the truth has led to an epidemic of irrational anxiety.
The human cost of COVID-19 goes beyond the cases, hospitalizations, deaths, reading and math scores and shuttered businesses. So hate the mask, not the masker.
The security blanket of our times should be an opportunity for self-assessment and intervention. Reaching for the mask should be a catalyst for finally dealing with an anxiety disorder one has allowed to fester for decades or some other condition that can’t be hidden behind the security blanket of our times.
The mask didn’t make America sicker, but it has become a symbol of how so sick many have become.
• Tom Basile is the host of “America Right Now” on Newsmax Television, an author and a former Bush administration official.