Almost three years and one month to the day that PPE became not just an acronym but a way of life, our organization has now been able to announce the lifting of the masking requirement. The low levels of community transmission, and being without cases within our walls, enabled us to make this decision and let people know that masks are no longer a part of their everyday wear.
It’s been interesting to see the reactions from various people. Some, myself included, were ready to celebrate, to take all the masks that have accumulated in pockets and purses and car doors and enthusiastically throw them all away. Others have been reluctant to take the mask off. One person told me they felt “naked” without the mask, others said it made them feel strange not to have it on.
Most of our elders have had no reluctance. It’s been a struggle to remind them to wear masks, it’s been a challenge to help them wear them properly. And the elders, more than anyone else, have voiced repeated concerns about how difficult it is to hear and understand other people who have masks on. Some elders, still anxious, are opting to keep them on but the majority, like the majority of the staff, have said, with a huge sigh of relief, “Finally!”
The mixed feelings are, I think, more than understandable. Those of us in elder care have lived with this dark cloud hanging over us so long. And we all know that it was not just a cloud. At more times than we care to count, it was a storm, sometimes of uncontrollable and epic proportions. In the early days, so many people became ill so quickly and there was so much loss of life, both in our community and within our walls. That fear, that sense of endless anxiety and questions without any answers, will not soon leave us. We may have gotten through it but it will live within us for a very long time, if not forever.
Our solid ground, during COVID, was no longer solid. Our belief in the ability of the medical field to find immediate answers and “fix it” was no longer valid. Our assumption that help would be there when we needed proved, right from the start, to be unfounded. So there is no wonder that we retain the skepticism, the bruises and the trepidation.
Are the optimists quick to shed their masks and the more cautious slower? Are those who suffered a serious bout of COVID reluctant to unmask? If you lost a loved one, is the mask still a part of your everyday life? Who knows and, in truth, it doesn’t matter.
This is our step towards tomorrow, a tomorrow that we hope will be safe and manageable and normal. And we adjust and readjust to whatever comes our way, each in our own way, each uniquely facing the future.