Masks & Social Distancing: The Equation For Effective Prevention Of COVID-19

Neya Alper

As I scroll through Instagram these days, I never would have guessed that our world is in a pandemic. And no, it is not because my feed is overtaken with aesthetically edited posts of books and food. It is because so many of my peers appear in pictures with their friends, no masks in sight, the distance between them closer to six millimeters than six feet. 

Now, this gives me pause. I find myself thinking, are they not aware of the pandemic? Do they know that there is a virus going around that has killed nearly two hundred thousand in the United States alone? But as I go through the comments, searching through all the fire, heart, and smile emoticons, I see that no one has raised this concern. 

I was especially shocked when I saw one post. Some of the pictures had been taken inside a store, and the subjects were wearing masks. But the other photos, taken outside, had no masks at all. So the question wasn’t whether they knew about the pandemic or not; they obviously did, and had the masks to prove it. It was the question of why they didn’t care.

As all of us should know, there is a pandemic happening in the world currently. It is the reason we see each other over Zoom rather than in a classroom, and why most shops require masks for entry. It is one of the mainstream media’s favorite topics at the moment, primarily because coronavirus is relevant to virtually everyone. 

With this pandemic, new normals have been established. Namely, preemptive measures such as masks and social distancing, as well as staying home as much as possible. These help prevent the spread by limiting direct contact with other human beings, and are vital to helping our country return to its old normal. 

However, many people have chosen to ignore these recommendations. Just the other day, I passed a restaurant in my car. It was full of patrons dining, none of them wearing masks or social distancing from each other. This should not be happening, especially not while case numbers are rising. It has become so much of a problem that the Alexandria City government has chosen to pass an ordinance mandating masks in public places. 

And even when people do remember to wear a mask, they do not always do it correctly. Sometimes they wear it under their nose. Sometimes they don’t wear a strong enough mask, thinking a sheer scarf is enough. But most of all, they will treat the mask like some sort of immunity, and will sidle up to people like normal, completely ignoring all social distancing rules.

What so many people seem to not understand is that social distancing and wearing masks is not an either/or choice. Just because you’re wearing a mask doesn’t mean you can go hug your friends. To effectively prevent the spread of COVID, they have to be done together. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) states on its website that “social distancing should be practiced in combination with other everyday preventive actions… including wearing masks.” In other words, you cannot have one without the other. 

I think a part of it is how people are raising awareness about prevention of the coronavirus. I see people telling others to ‘wear a mask’ virtually everywhere I look, but nowhere does it say to social distance. It has become the overlooked aspect in the coronavirus prevention duo, despite it being just as important (if not more) than the masks themselves. 

Misinterpretation of (or just blatant lack of compliance with) these guidelines can be seen across all ages, but I’ve specifically seen it in younger generations. It makes me feel so ashamed to even be associated with them. I thought that Generation Z would be the group to combat climate change and ensure equality for all people. But if we can’t even follow simple precautions for a deadly virus, I don’t see how we’re going to do any of those things. 

I understand that masks can be uncomfortable sometimes, or even stifling. Social distancing can be a pain. It can be tempting to just pretend like everything is normal. I myself am even guilty of taking off the mask from time to time, just so long as I’m socially distant away from everyone who isn’t in my immediate household. The truth is, we all need to get better about following the measures health professionals have set for us, because they are not just for us. They are for everyone.

So when you go to pose next to your friend to get that perfect Instagram photo, think. Think about how you’d feel if that photo meant one more day of virtual school. One more case of COVID. One more death. 

And then back away.

Neya Alper took Journalism I as a freshman and has been with Theogony since 2020. In her free time, she enjoys creatively writing, reading, and creating digital art.