Masks are also becoming a fashion statement. The New York Times recently noted that the while COVID-19 has brought the safety accessory mainstream, designers in China and Paris already had runway models in masks dating back to 2014.
If there is a symbol of the current confusion and fear, the misinformation and anxiety, generated by the spread of the new coronavirus, it is the surgical face mask. When history looks back on the pandemic of 2020, those white or baby blue rectangles that hide the mouth and nose, turning everyone into a muzzled pelican, will be what we see.
The masks began appearing almost immediately after the infection was identified, first in Asia, where masks were already common, and then in Europe. These days they are everywhere. (And nowhere — there is a serious face mask shortage).
Now photographs of people in masks illustrate almost every news article about the virus, on front pages and social media alike. After all, the contagion itself is intangible: a microscopic organism resting on hard surfaces, transmitted through the air in water droplets from infected individuals. It can’t be seen.
Even more than bottles of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, the mask has become the virus’s avatar; shorthand for our looming dread, desire to hide, inability to protect ourselves, and desire to do something — anything — to appear to take action.
Most masks aren’t the high-end fashion variety, but rather handmade goods. In many ways, the rock-band mask has become the new tour T-shirt, allowing people to display their fandom in style. Still, Etsy cautions buyers regarding goods purchased on its site, noting, “Items sold on Etsy, such as masks and hand sanitizers, aren’t medical-grade. Etsy sellers cannot make medical or health claims.”