I am a lifelong germaphobe. Many of my family and friends have poked fun at my oddities of compulsive hand washing and stopping at every hand sanitizer dispenser. In the wake of the COVID-19, I felt validated in the most morbid way. The pandemic has become a personal olympics for my fear of contagion, despite the fact that Maine has experienced lower rates of transmission compared to the rest of the U.S. I’ve wondered, lately, about the lives of other germaphobes in the pandemic and their reactions to the politics around it all.
One unexpected thing I have found among germaphobes is that the pandemic is not scaring them as much as many other people. Sydney Springer from BYU has said that “maybe I’m freaking out less because everyone is doing what I do normally when scary illnesses go around.” We are very likely headed into an era of hyper awareness about germs and contamination. Even when COVID-19 is long gone and we are back on the upswing, it will still hold real estate in our minds. An entire generation of kids will have become adjusted to wearing masks in public at all times and it will become odd to be able to walk around with your face uncovered.
The biggest frustration I have encountered during the pandemic is the seeming complete disregard for hygiene among a surprising amount of people. The run on toilet paper in March this year is a great example of that. It begs the question, were people not using it already? Akanksha Singh for Glamour writes “I’ve come to accept — I’ll never be able to control everyone’s hygiene.” It seems like an easy thing to accept, but coupled with the acceptance comes a head splitting frustration. The maintenance of proper hygiene is the easiest and most effective way to fight against the pandemic: wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep your surroundings clean.
I have accepted that I cannot control others’ hygiene, but I draw the line at not wearing a mask. Anti-maskers are coming out of the woodwork from all walks of life. The phenomenon of the anti-masker is nothing new. In the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, many people also joined anti-mask groups. Becky Little for History.com writes that in San Francisco, an “Anti-Mask League” formed that “held a public meeting with over 2,000 attendees.” They used many of the same arguments that we hear now about masks creating fear and violating civil liberties.
I think that masks are a valid reaction to a deadly disease that targets the respiratory system. The fear comes not from the masks, but from leaders that prey on fear of the pandemic for personal gain and neglect to offer a way forward. Masks are inconvenient, but they are not an attack on civil liberties. My right to not wear a mask ends at your right not to catch a deadly virus.
As a germaphobe in a pandemic, I have seen things that made my skin crawl and caused me to doubt the human race’s ability to be rational and clean. However, the pandemic has presented a chance to learn and realize that while we can’t control the hygiene of others, that does not mean we cannot effect change with our own decisions.