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The Mask of the Red (Covid) Death
David Solway • 19 Jan, 2021 • 4 Min Read
Safety first, last, and always.
Just this morning I was looking out my window at the esplanade that borders the Fraser River when a couple strolled by and paused for a moment beside the guardrail. They were, of course, fully masked, though as a couple they were exempt from the Covid distancing rules. As they turned to leave, they embraced and exchanged a long kiss, mask to mask, which would have made a charming scene were it not so grotesque, two masks glued together in surreal intimacy.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam would have felt vindicated. “Like other activities during Covid-19 that involve physical closeness,” she advised, “there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus.” The safest strategy is to “skip kissing, avoid face-to-face closeness, wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose.”
Of course, Tam’s counsels were meant for casual encounters, but why stop there? Safety first—and second, third, ad infinitum, the Covid way of life. In fact, you can’t be safe enough. According to this expert, the sexual activity with the lowest risk “involves yourself alone.” Talk about self-isolation!
Be fruitful and don't multiply.
Similarly, the provincial Center for Disease Control advises people, among the “tips and strategies [and] protective steps” sexual partners should adopt, to “wear a face covering or mask,” which cuts down on “heavy breathing,” or to “use barriers, like walls (e.g., glory holes), that allow for sexual contact but prevent close face-to-face contact.”
One should also consider that “video dates, phone chats, sexting, online chat rooms and group cam rooms are ways to engage in sexual activity” without taking risks. Most important, recognize that “you are your safest partner.” Best to go it alone and avoid close contact with others. However, “If you’re feeling fine and have no symptoms of Covid-19, you can still have sex.” Permission has been granted.
It is obscene that unelected officials in the sublimity of their wisdom can tell us how and when to perform intimacy. The idea is not only hideous, but on a human level fundamentally alienating, an antidote to the normal expression of human passion and romantic feeling—especially when the risk for younger and asymptomatic people is vanishingly low.
As the American Institute for Economic Research reliably reports, cutting through the panic and the hype, there is “a mortality rate of 0.01 percent, assuming a two-week lag between infection and death. This is one-tenth of the flu mortality rate of 0.1 percent.” Sucharit Bkakdi, a leading microbiologist at the University of Mainz and, unlike Tam, a genuine authority on the virus, gives an estimate “of 0.1 percent-0.3 percent, which is the range of moderate flu.”
No matter. When I venture out for my afternoon walk along the esplanade, I feel as if I’m entering a carnival horror arcade or a grade-C zombie flick. Nearly everyone is masked, not only the elderly who may be in the statistical danger zone, but the middle aged, families, bicyclists, joggers, younger people, children and even toddlers, who are effectively immune.
True, very few are kissing or engaging in indecorous activity, but that is no consolation. The sense of the eerie, of something morbid and freakish this way coming, is deeply distressing, no less than the abject compliance with government mandates in the absence of common sense or intelligent reflection.
A recent IPSOS Reid poll finds that 93 percent of Canadians “say they are doing their best to abide by public health recommendations regarding Covid-19.” The poll reports that more Canadians “are wearing a protective mask than was the case just a few months ago,” and that “support for safety measures remains high.” Support for critical scrutiny and independent inquiry into the facts does not.
Home sweet home.
We are living in the Age of Covid, enjoined or compelled to stay in our “bubble,” to practice “social distancing” (six feet is the officially designated distance, the same as the typical grave depth), and to wear those ghastly medical ornaments, multi-ply masks, over half our faces.
Over time, coercion has turned into willing consensus and self-enforced mutilation of the spirit; a fearful and pliable public has surrendered its autonomy of judgment to a statistical reign of terror practiced by ignorant and power-hungry politicians and their self-serving health officials. People have suffered a mental lockdown, a form of cerebral morbidity. As Stephen Kruiser writes:
The lockdowns ruined far more lives than they’ve saved—if they’ve saved any at all. The data on wearing masks has been kind of all over the place too. Those who’ve been spreading the pandemic panic porn for political purposes treat the masks as if they have super powers. We will more than likely find out that wearing them was all just so much useless theater too.
The mask has become the major symbol of a time when human relationships, what we used to call face to face contact, are relics of a receding past. Facebook was bad enough, when personal reciprocity was replaced by digital transmissions and friendship became “friending.” Now Facebook has become Facemask, eliminating the human smile, articulate speech, normal conversation and personal expressions while transforming sexual and romantic intimacy into a lurid caricature of communion, affection, affinity and warmth—the empty husk of human presence.
In a poem delightful for its insouciant humor, Canadian poet Michael Harris wished to be “among the essential kissers of all time.” The volume, New & Selected, appeared in 1998. He would have had another think coming had he written his poem today.
David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. His most recent volume of poetry, The Herb Garden, appeared in spring 2018. His manifesto, Reflections on Music, Poetry & Politics, was released by Shomron Press in spring 2016. He has produced two CDs of original songs: Blood Guitar and Other Tales and Partial to Cain, on which he was accompanied by his pianist wife Janice Fiamengo. His latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture.