John MacDonald: Are facemasks the new cycle helmet?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Apr 2022, 1:11pm
Photo / Getty Images
Photo / Getty Images

John MacDonald: Are facemasks the new cycle helmet?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 14 Apr 2022, 1:11pm

Are facemasks the new cycle helmet? 

If you’re of a certain age you’ll probably remember all the noise about cycle helmets not being cool, not being needed, PC gone mad…all that stuff. That was back in 1994. 

Today, most people wear cycle helmets, don't they? 

The only people who don’t wear helmets – and this is a bit of a generalisation – are people who nick bikes. They don’t tend to pack a helmet before they head out on their bike-nicking missions. 

But generally, everyone wears a bike helmet these days. Because we all now understand that they are a good thing and they keep us safe – well, safer than if we didn’t wear one. 

And I think the same can be said of face masks and it’s going to be interesting to see if, long-term, New Zealand becomes a ‘face mask nation’. 

You think back to before the pandemic hit, the people we tended to see wearing face masks were from overseas.  

But now, we’re all wearing them. Largely because the Government has said we have to wear them as part of the pandemic response. The question now is, are we going to keep wearing them? 

The move overnight from the red to the orange traffic light setting means some of the mask requirements have been relaxed. 

Although, we still have to wear them in taxis, on planes, on the Cook Strait ferries, buses, shops, libraries, museums, local and central government agencies – but not on the dancefloor. 

It’s also no longer compulsory for kids to wear masks at school, which is copping a bit of flack. 

Epidemiologist Siouxsie Wiles is one of the people not happy about that. She says just like supermarkets and libraries – where masks are still required to keep people safe – schools should also be places where masks are compulsory. 

I was talking to a teacher at our school last night who said they’ll be keeping the mask rule in place today for the last day of term, and then easing things back after the holidays. 

The thing is, school isn’t the only place where kids hang out is it? 

Our teenagers have got a mate who tested positive yesterday – weeks after most of the other people in his family had COVID. 

The thinking is, he may have picked it up at a party they were all at last Saturday night. No masks at parties. So, there’s an example where wearing a mask at school didn’t stop this guy from picking it up elsewhere. 

The thing for me is, I haven’t had Covid and I’m not actually in any hurry to get it. I had a really bad flu a few years back – and yes, it was the real flu; not man flu – and I really struggled with that. Especially, the really high temperatures. 

So, if I can avoid Covid as much as possible, that’s what I’ll do. 

And that’ll probably mean keeping the mask in the pocket and whipping it out even when I’m in places where it’s no longer compulsory. 

What I’m interested in, though, is whether more of us will still be up for wearing facemasks long term? 

As I said before, before the pandemic – here in New Zealand anyway – facemasks were almost seen as a little bit unusual, weren’t they? 

If you saw someone in the street wearing one you sort of thought ‘oh, I wonder what’s up with them?’. I did anyway. I probably unfairly judged them as being a bit on the paranoid side of things too. 

But I think now we’ve all seen the value in facemasks and I think we are going to see a long-term change in attitudes. Just like we did with cycle helmets.  

Here at work, for example, the rules have just changed and we no longer have to wear masks in the office. 

I’m still wearing mine. But most of the other people here aren’t. And that’s great if they don’t want to. 

But what’s also great, is the acceptance that I can wear mine if I want to. I’ve had no one here say ‘oooh, what’re you still wearing that thing for? Mr Paranoid. Ashley’s best mate’. They might’ve thought it – but no one’s said it. 

I’ve got two in my pocket right now. They’re everywhere! Chances are you’ve got at least one in your pocket now too – you might even be wearing one. 

That’s why I think one of the most positive, long-lasting changes to come from our pandemic response is going to be widespread and ongoing acceptance and use of facemasks.