I’m Starting to Forget To Wear My Mask: Reopening Adventures in Beijing

This past weekend, we just heard that in Beijing, you no longer need to wear a mask while outdoors. It’s welcome news with the warming weather, which has made wearing a mask outdoors an often sweaty proposal. But it’s also a relief to me for another reason – I’ve started to forget my mask.

Seriously.

In the past month or so, at least once or twice a week I would leave the apartment and then have to turn back when I realized I had walked out of my apartment with a “naked” face.

(Side note: Isn’t it something that nowadays not having a covering over my mouth and nose somehow seems bizarre and even like a form of “indecency” when stepping out?)

Anyhow, if I had to speculate why I seemed to space on wearing a mask, I would guess it’s partly the weather, and partly because people in Beijing are worrying a lot less about the virus.

Now, I don’t take anything for granted when it comes to the coronavirus. China continues to register small handfuls of imported cases every single day, and parts of the country have seen small flare-ups in local cases. I know the virus still remains in our world, and as the experts here continue to caution, we cannot entirely let our guard down.

Still, it’s been over a month since Beijing saw any locally transmitted infections. Businesses are continuing to fling their doors open, schools are gradually welcoming students back, and you see more people out enjoying the blue skies and late spring breezes.

Even my office has eased measures to enter the building. We now need to just flash our QR code showing our health status (green for OK to enter) and pass by an infrared temperature checkpoint that takes only a second. If I can pull up the QR code while walking in, I barely even need to pause. It’s a huge step up from what we once had to do – stop while an attendant checked our temperature, and then sign in on a registration sheet.

Meanwhile, as Beijing is rising from the past ravages of COVID-19, my home country of the US is still very much under siege by the virus. I find myself caught in a kind of “Twilight Zone” existence every time I flick on the international news and get the latest updates about the US, where the people I love most in the world still live. Their lives have been thrown into a turbulence I could never have imagined nor wished for them, as they struggle with everything from furloughs and other employment unknowns to the specter of illness that has settled over their communities as the virus continues to spread.

Not long ago, a comparative immunologist in the Boston area penned a viral post about the risks of getting infected as places open up, which painted a sobering picture.

And yet, the states where my loved ones live — which are still seeing new daily case numbers that either equal or exceed the total number of cases we saw in Beijing — are starting to reopen. It’s stunning, in the worst possible way.

When I go to my office, I don’t really worry that a coworker might be infected with COVID-19. My employer had even asked everyone in the company to stay in Beijing and not travel outside to avoid any potential risk of transmission.

Meanwhile, when my family and friends eventually return to their offices — which might have minimal or no screening measures in place, nor other policies to lower the potential for infection — they may not have the same peace of mind.

And chances are, it’s going to be a long time before they ever forget to wear a mask.

Has your area been reopening? How has it been for you?

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17 Replies to “I’m Starting to Forget To Wear My Mask: Reopening Adventures in Beijing”

  1. Congratulations to China for the discipline and hard work that makes it possible for you to go out without a mask. Although we’re starting to open up in Washington State, I think it will be a long time before we get to the point where we haven’t had a new locally transmitted case as you have in Beijing. I’m in the “at-risk” category, so, besides taking walks, I’m continuing to stay home.

    1. Nicki, thank you so much for the comment. I think it’s very smart that you continue to stay at home — even for those not at risk, this virus can be deadly (including some seemingly healthy young people). Really glad that you are staying safe.

  2. Wow Jocelyn, I am amazed at how on the ball China is with the QR code scanning and the temperature check. I could only wish the US would implement similar measures… Sadly, I don’t see it happening.

    I would feel more hopeful if we had a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ with this situation in the US, but because of our leadership and lack of structure I just don’t know how long this will last…

    Glad Beijing is doing better (and you can enjoy blue skies and nature!). Stay safe!

  3. I’m glad that restrictions are being eased – such a good sign. Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we have two warring factions. I prefer to play it safe and stay home.

  4. I’ve been removing my mask in the street lately! It gets too hot and there aren’t even cases in Suzhou.

    Now I just worry when the border will be reopened… but it looks like my son won’t be seeing his maternal grandparents this year. (Not to mention all the long-time foreign residents who didn’t manage to come back in time and now they are locked out of their homes, jobs and schools…)

    1. Thanks for the comment Marta! I can imagine the heat in Suzhou, as even here in Beijing people are breaking out their shorts and skirts!

      Yeah, looks like the reopening of the border still remains uncertain, which is unfortunate not only for you but others who are trapped outside of the country. I know of a number of couples separated amid the pandemic. Hope that your son can at least stay connected to his grandparents through other means in the meantime!

  5. Any health care professional i know – (for example my sister) have all advised that there is NO reason for an otherwise healthy person to wear a face mask. In fact they say that a face mask reduces your ability to breathe (absorb oxygen) in a healthy way. The additional stress on your body that a face-mask places can irritate your face/skin and in some cases lungs (especially in a poorly ventilated space.)

    Better ventilation in buildings and regular filter cleaning could reduce ALL viruses that are normally ‘shared’.

    Do you have a cold or need to spit/cough? Their advice is to use a tissue and dispose of it and wash your hands. Basic hygiene another-words (that many people seem to have forgotten about in the hysteria).

    The best thing you could do for you and your health is exercise in the fresh air – with no face-mask.

    Not all coughs are Covid 19.
    not all sneezes are viruses.

    a bit or perspective is needed.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      Masks are actually recommended to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. A study by a research team at the University of Hong Kong “found that the coronavirus’ transmission rate via respiratory droplets or airborne particles dropped by as much as 75% when surgical masks were used.”

      For an in-depth dive into the importance of wearing masks, see this article penned by data scientist who looked at the evidence for wearing masks and found very strong support for masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A few excerpts from the piece:

      The research that first convinced me was a laser light-scattering experiment. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health used lasers to illuminate and count how many droplets of saliva were flung into the air by a person talking with and without a face mask. The paper was only recently published officially, but I saw a YouTube video showing the experiment in early March. The results are shockingly obvious in the video. When the researcher used a simple cloth face cover, nearly all the droplets were blocked.

      This evidence is only relevant if COVID-19 is transmitted by droplets from a person’s mouth. It is. There are many documented super-spreading cases connected with activities – like singing in enclosed spaces – that create a lot of droplets.

      This evidence seems, to me, clear and simple: COVID-19 is spread by droplets. We can see directly that a piece of cloth blocks those droplets and the virus those droplets contain. People without symptoms who don’t even know they are sick are responsible for around half of the transmission of the virus.

      We should all wear masks.

      A snopes fact-check on the dangers of wearing masks to your health also rated this claim as “mostly false” with the following conclusion:

      Ultimately, the impact of a mask on its wearer depends on the wearer’s health, any pre-existing respiratory illnesses, the type of mask, and the length of time the person wears it. In most instances, the effects of prolonged cloth mask usage are small. Masks, like most short-term measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, should be worn only if the wearer has to be in close proximity to others, and be used in addition to necessary measures like social distancing, and more. As such, we rate this claim about the dangers of masks as “Mostly false.”

      1. according to WHO guide-lines:
        “If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19.
        Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
        Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
        If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.”

        As i said, health-care professionals i know advise against using masks if not in direct contact with Covid patients, as preventing an otherwise healthy person from breathing easily may add stress to an otherwise healthy body, especially in hot weather.

        Fresh air is essential for maintaining good health, and anything that inhibits the ability for you to breathe in oxygen may have a negative impact on your health.

        Every cough is not Covid.
        Every sneeze is not a virus.
        that is why you cough/sneeze into a tissue, and not a mask, and dispose of the tissue.

        There is also a HUGE environmental impact of the disposable face masks that (are next to useless – again this was told to me by health-care professionals) and people seem to use.

        In hot weather wearing a face mask may increase the likelihood of heat-related problems.

        Also, being able to breathe deeply feels good (especially in Spring weather) and is beneficial for your continued well-being.

        1. Thanks again for the comment, S.

          Yes, the WHO did initially make that recommendation about masks — and now they’ve actually changed their stance to supporting the wearing of masks in public, as this story from the South China Morning Post notes, provided people are wearing cloth masks, not surgical or medical masks. A WHO official was quoted as saying, “There may be situations where the wearing of masks may reduce the rate at which infected individuals may infect others.”

          I understand the concern about surgical/medical face masks being reserved for health workers, and also the potential for too much trash being generated. Because of this, people are being encouraged to wear cloth face masks (this is the guidance given, for example, in the US, my home country). I also use a cloth face mask myself, so it can be washed and reused and won’t affect supplies for health workers or create more trash.

          Again, the health concerns you mentioned have been debunked.

          The thing is, it helps prevent the spread of the virus. Since a significant percentage of people with the virus have no symptoms, a person may be infected and then unintentionally spread it to other people (who may end up having severe symptoms that could be life threatening). Case studies about the spread of the virus have shown that people with no symptoms are still spreading it while doing things that don’t involve sneezing or coughing, such as singing and talking.

          When a person wears a mask, she is protecting others from herself (as again, she may have the virus and not know she has it); likewise when others do so, they are protecting her.

          It is a change to get used to putting on a face mask when going out in public — I know because it took time for me to adjust. But it can prevent the spread of the virus. And if simply putting on a mask, a small inconvenience, can make a big difference for the good of society and public health, I will certainly do it and encourage others to do the same.

          1. While Covid 19 is contagious, people are forgetting the following (from WHO site)
            “The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Other symptoms that are less common and may affect some patients include aches and pains, nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell or a rash on skin or discoloration of fingers or toes. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but only have very mild symptoms.

            Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing hospital treatment. Around 1 out of every 5 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart and lung problems, diabetes, or cancer, are at higher risk of developing serious illness. ” Actually in most European countries the mortality rate for those infected has been neared 3%.
            I say ‘those infected’, as this should be ‘those tested’ as a 100% population test has not taken place, so the mortality rate is probably a lot lower.

            until and unless 100% of the world’s population is tested, there will never be an accurate assessment of the number of people infected, or how severe the symptoms were that they experienced if any at all.

            You may ALREADY have had the virus and been asymptomatic – as you probably are with the majority of the viruses you encounter on a daily basis.

            as an example, 3 years ago i was in a house were 2 of the inhabitants had viral pneumonia, but did not require hospitalisation, and i experienced no symptoms, nor did any of my work colleagues or their families.
            So i was in close contact with a virus VERY similar to Covid with no symptoms, and my care (with medical advice) facilitated their recovery.

            This means if you are healthy you have nothing to fear.
            This is where healthy diet, exercise and good ventilation / fresh air / healthy environment play their part to keep you healthy.
            If you chose to wear a mask you are immediately reducing your access to one of main necessities for a healthy life. (i can not comment for countries/cities that have a smog / pollution problem – it would be the responsibility of any government to ensure access to clean air, but it is being pushed back on the individual, so governments are failing to protect people at a very basic level, it being cheaper not to do anything.)

            In addition, you already carry viruses in your body:
            https://www.sciencealert.com/not-all-viruses-are-bad-for-you-here-are-some-that-can-have-a-protective-effect

            apparently there are studies ongoing that are looking in to how the common cold (which comes from the same family of viruses as Covid 19) may actually help protect you or mitigate against the more serious effects of Covid 19.

            Again, the majority of the people who have died from contracting Covid 19 have had additional medical conditions, and therefore a weakened immune system, making them more susceptible to additional infections, or been in a closed environment with close contact with those severely ill with the virus (medical staff / nursing homes). Likewise morbidly obese people seem to have a higher mortality rate.

            There is a difference between dying WITH Covid 19 and FROM Covid.

            Like it or not, and has harsh as it sounds, viruses are part of nature, we can not cut ourselves from nature.

            Fear is playing a large part on the Covid response.
            It is easier to make people afraid of other people through social coercion (ie blame each other for contracting viruses) than have (young) people take responsibility for their own health.
            The government, who are there to serve the people, should be taking steps to make make sure people have access to a healthy diet (again without coercion), exercise and fresh air.

            Fear does not stop death – it stops life.

            Name calling or labeling does not contribute to debate.

  6. I wear an N95 at any time that I am away from my home. I had stockpiled a shit ton of them in the past not just because of the approaching pandemic but I work in an environment where I am constantly around metal dust and fumes, welding exhaust, and industrial degreasers used to prep steel for welds and cutting. N95s offer protection against particulates if they are used properly and I am NOT taking chances with this shit. I read Logan Lo’s blog and saw that he got fucked up hard by this despite how healthy he is. I am not going to risk bringing this shit into my household. A while back some little simp saw me taking off my mask to smoke a cigarette and he actually had the fucking nerve to tell me that I should “donate any N95s I had to the government and wear a regular cloth mask like everyone else”. I walked right up to him and said “MAKE ME, you fucking commie. What are you gonna do, motherfucker?”

      1. Riots are breaking out all over the country. Minneapolis is literally in flames. Interesting times for all of us in this world indeed. Stay safe and keep your head on a swivel. EVERYTHING in life is merely an illusion. Fully stocked supermarket shelves? Happy families playing in a park? Christmas lights over warm fireplaces? All illusions. All it takes is just ONE psycho inmate who broke out of a nearby maximum security prison, hungry, horny, and murderous and armed with a framing hammer to seek out a random sleeping household in the middle of the night and grace it with death and terror. That is how fragile our society is. People who think “it cannot happen here” are fully in a state of blissful denial. Everything and everywhere is safe, until it is not anymore, and it takes less than half second for all hell to break loose. Having grown up in the streets most of my life and having seen guys next to me get their heads cracked open by beer bottles or fists clutching pool balls with absolutely no warning, I can attest to what seeing the illusion of normality collapse around you. There is no time to draw a weapon, even if you are armed, and I am always armed. You just have enough seconds to try to get the fuck out of there and hope that you are not the next target of whoever just smashed that guy’s face in 0.5 seconds earlier.

  7. Forgive me if there are grammatical errors or misspellings in my submissions. I am usually compulsive about that, but when you are on your fourth lot of Keystone Ice like I am right now, everything feels like you are trying to move and type under water. LOL

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