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Note #141: Freedom...? (2022.5.2)

Today was a special day, at least in theory. After nearly two years of collective insanity, the government finally lifted the outdoors mask mandate. Of course, as I discussed last time, the actual “mandate” was quite narrow: You only had to wear a mask outside if you were unable to maintain proper social distancing of two meters. At some point, though, society decided that we were just going to wear masks outside all the time, even if there was no one else within a hundred meters. I won’t rehash that rant, though; you can go back and read my previous post if you missed it.

The specifics of the new government directive were that wearing masks outside was now optional in groups of fewer than fifty people. I suspect that this figure was chosen not for any epidemiological reason, but for reasons of political and social control—that is, it is meant to discourage protests—although that could just be my cynicism and mistrust talking. Whatever the case, I don’t intend on being in an outdoor gathering of fifty people or more any time soon, so for all intents and purposes this means that we don’t have to wear masks outside anymore. Of course, I haven’t been wearing my mask outside for two weeks now, with the exception of days when the air quality has been particularly bad (and there have unfortunately been a number of these days). As such, nothing has really changed for me, but it is still nice to see the government finally come to its senses.

I was, however, curious to see how everyone else would react to this new policy. It was announced last Thursday, so people have had time to get used to the idea, but would everyone just suddenly stop wearing their masks outside today? I was skeptical. I suspected that some people would stop, but not everyone. So, as I took the elevator down from our apartment this morning, I made the decision to keep a tally of the masked versus the maskless among those I encountered on my walk to school. “Encountered” here has a very specific meaning, namely: people that approached me from the direction in which I was walking. I did not count people that I passed walking in the same direction (as I didn’t want to have to turn and stare at them to see if they were wearing a mask) and I did not count random people just standing around or walking in different directions, on side streets, etc.

Along the main road, I encountered 45 people, and once on campus I encountered 23 people. Of those 45 people on the main road, six were not wearing masks—and two of those six were wearing masks when I first saw them but then pulled them down as they approached me (perhaps inspired by my bare face). Of the 23 people I encountered on campus, only two were not wearing masks. That’s roughly 13.3% maskless on the main road, 8.7% maskless on campus, and 11.8% overall. I was disappointed not to see more people without masks—and a little frustrated if I’m being honest—but it’s still better than last week. I suppose you can’t expect people to suddenly cast aside their masks after wearing them outside for two entire years. When I first took off my mask two weeks ago, I did feel a little awkward and nervous. But back then I was being something of a rebel; I thought that having government approval would embolden people. I guess it goes to show you that everyone deciding to wear masks outside was never really about government regulations in the first place, it was about doing what everyone else expected you to do.

I suppose I should note that I am working with a very limited sample size here. HJ went out to Nakseongdae Park during the day, and she told me that she saw quite a few people not wearing masks. So it could be that I am in a mask-wearing bubble. Whatever the case, I think it is just going to take some time for people to get used to the idea of acting like sane individuals not wearing masks outside. And until that happens, I will resist the urge to glare at people wearing masks, despite my frustration. Being a pandemic Karen works both ways, after all. Those who continue to wear their masks aren’t hurting anyone else, so live and let live. If I expect understanding and sympathy from others, I should be ready to give it myself. I just hope my patience isn’t tested for too long.

Send me your thoughts.

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