Masks Are The New Helmet

The weather conditions this past weekend were optimal for bicycle riding:

And so I took advantage by riding a bicycle:

I really enjoy bicycle riding.

Towards the end of my ride, I encountered another person on a bicycle traveling in the opposite direction. The rider was helmeted and masked (or scarved, I don’t remember which) and all I could see were his eyes. As we passed, he locked eyes with me and shook his head, and then he uttered the word, “Dick.”

As I mentioned, it was a beautiful day, and so it took awhile for my blissed-out brain to register what it had just seen and heard. “Did he really just call me a dick?,” I wondered. “Why?” Then it hit me:

Because I wasn’t wearing a mask.

Setting aside for the moment my personal feelings concerning the response to the pandemic, here is the exact wording of the governor’s executive order concerning the wearing of masks:

Effective at 8 p.m. on Friday, April 17, 2020 any individual who is over age two and able to medically tolerate a face-covering shall be required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth face-covering when in a public place and unable to maintain, or when not maintaining, social distance.  

Now, while I do have a very low tolerance for facial coverings (I don’t even wear a balaclava when it’s freezing out), I would be lying if I said I was medically unable to tolerate them. All you have to do is look at the pelt on my mug to disprove that one:

As you can see, I’ve really let myself go. (Haven’t we all?)

Nevertheless, my choice not to wear a mask still conforms to the order, as it clearly only calls for a mask when you’re in a public place and unable to maintain “social distance.” And I can assure you that when I’m riding around on my bicycle I’m not encroaching on anyone’s space. For one thing, in case you haven’t tried, it’s difficult to get very close to people on a bicycle for any sustained period of time while you’re riding, even if you want to–because, you know, you’re on a bicycle. For another, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the cycling world who’s been more outspoken about the evils of unsolicited wheelsucking than me. All you have to do to see my on-the-bike distancing bona-fides is peruse my archives. In fact, pretty much the entire reason I ride bicycles is to avoid people, so you certainly don’t have to worry about me violating your personal space.

“But what about passing people, like the guy who called you a dick?,” you may be thinking. “Surely you’re within six feet of each other when that happens, and thus not properly distancing.”

Okay, let’s take a look at that one, but here’s a trigger warning first:

Here’s what the CDC has to say about spreading the bug:

Person-to-person spread

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Some recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

Maintaining good social distance (about 6 feet) is very important in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Admittedly in our current politically charged environment I’m not up on how I’m supposed to feel about the CDC. Am I supposed to like them? Hate them? At this point I have no idea. So if my citing them somehow compels you to brand me a Trump supporter or a libtard I can only plead ignorance in that regard. And yes, on top of all this I do realize what we do know about the bug is constantly changing. Nevertheless, I maintain it’s still fairly reasonable to assume the CDC guidance is somewhere in the general ballpark of being reasonably more or less correct, or at least in line with what we know about the bug at this current moment. Furthermore, I’m no scientist, but I’m willing to posit that you can’t give someone the bug if, you know, you don’t have it.

So let’s consider me, the dick, riding around without a mask. In order to infect the person who identified me as a dick, or anybody else whose six-foot perimeter I might have inadvertently and momentarily broached (does the bug carry a tape measure?), the following sequence of events would need to unfold:

  • I would need to be infected myself and have no idea
  • I would need to produce virus-laden respiratory droplets as we passed
  • Those infectious droplets would then have to enter the other person’s eyes, nose, or mouth

Could I somehow be an asymptomatic spreader, some kind of Typhoid Mary on two wheels? Theoretically. Could some pollen fly up my nose and cause me to unleash a mighty sneeze at exactly the right moment? I guess. Could this in turn result in the guy who called me a dick taking a viral shotgun blast right in the eyes like he’s Dick Cheney’s hunting buddy? I suppose that is technically possible.

But if I had to bet on all of the above being true and happening in the necessary sequence then I wouldn’t like my odds:

“So what’s the big deal?,” you may now be wondering. “Why not just wear a mask while you ride anyway? There’s no harm in taking some extra precautions, or in dealing with a minor inconvenience if it makes your fellow New Yorkers feel more comfortable?” Well, I respectfully disagree. If I walk into a temple and refuse to put on a yarmulke despite being asked then I’m a dick. But why do I have to engage in pantomime while I’m out in the open enjoying a beautiful day? To assuage the irrational fears of some media-addled person on a bike who’s sublimating his anxiety into anger? Nope. Even in a pandemic irrationality must defer to reason and not the other way around.

So you’ll have to forgive me for clinging to reason even if it elicits scorn, and for valuing my own right to make informed and responsible choices over giving others the illusion of safety and security. As a seasoned veteran of the Helmet Wars I knew as soon as people started going to parks, taking pictures of other people, and then shaming them on social media simply for being outside on a beautiful day that this pandemic was going to be a knock-down, drag-out virtue-signalling shitshow. So much about this is both irrational and infuriating: you can’t shoot baskets (the hoops have been removed from the backboards), but you can play golf. What the fuck is that? Who’s in greater need of the mental relief that comes with physical activity; the kid in an apartment complex who wants to practice free throws, or the suburbanite working from home looking to squeeze in a round of golf? (And yes, I realize the irony of complaining about inequity while riding around on an exquisite lugged bicycle.)

Then again, I may have misinterpreted this whole thing. Maybe he was just annoyed I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

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