By ROBERT JUMPER
One Feather Editor
I don’t know if it is what you would call a result of premature COVID relief, but if you will peep around the parking lots and commonly walked areas of the Qualla Boundary, you can’t help but notice that there has been an increase of discarded masks on the ground. I even noted that one child of an inattentive parent thought that a used mask on the ground would be an excellent discovery to pick up and examine. Once the parent stopped daydreaming; she showed the appropriate amount of horror as she noticed her child squishing around a mask filled with whatever the previous wearer might have blown into it.
I have seen littered masks in every lot and on every walkway that I travel over the course of a work week. We need to keep in mind that the mind of a child is typically innocent and uneducated when it comes to biohazards. Remember when you were a kid and took great pleasure and joy in giving your playground friends and siblings the “cooties” with an item of clothing or hair or some other item, chasing them around to touch them with that item so they caught them?
Our kids today are not that much different in mentality. Now add to that fact that we adults have shorter attention spans and, that many of us seem to not have that set of eyes in the back of our heads that our parents and grandparents had, and you could easily see how a child might grab up a colorful face masks from the ground and think it would be great fun to try it on or stick in their pockets to save for their next “cootie fight” with someone.
Masks are biohazardous material. People do not just breathe in and out through them. They cough, sneeze, and sweat into them. In other words, they contain your secretions. With a person breathing moist, warm air into cloth or paper matting of a mask, any bacteria or virus that they may be carrying, not just the coronavirus bug, will find a virtual petri dish or medium for growth in that mask. And then it gets discarded to the ground, for any critter to deposit what is on its body or leave droppings on it. Add to this the fact that children tend to mimic behavior. If mom, dad, and other grownups are wearing masks, it is natural behavior for children to see one and think it’s okay to put it on.
I know that this is old ground for discussion, but I urge you to pay attention to where you dispose of your mask. We don’t like masks; on that we may agree. I have said many times that once the virus is under control, we should set up group mask burnings to celebrate our liberation from them. But they are currently a necessary evil, a modified behavior to prevent sickness and save lives. It is also a sign of compassion to your fellow human being, and, for the time being, it is a matter of mandated law. So is taking your mask and littering with it.
Disposal of a mask should, at minimum, be in a trash receptacle and at best in a biohazard box. If you have a condition that requires you to take injected medications, any sane person will not administer that to themselves and then toss their used syringe into a daycare parking lot or playground. The same care should be used with the disposal of masks.
Parents and caregivers, because calls to dispose of masks properly will not be heeded by many, it is up to you to be more diligent with children, educating them on the dangers of used masks; that they are not clean and safe to play with. And the community needs to help and support our parents and caregivers. You might even go so far as to carry disposable gloves with you so that you can pick up and discard used masks properly. Whatever your conscience tells you to do. I know it is abhorrent to think about handling someone else’s waste, but it is what is before us. Ignoring it could have consequences for our community in a physical, personal way. Parents, caregivers, and the community have a responsibility to deal with discarded masks.
I walked outside to the rear parking lot of the Ginger Lynn Welch (GLW) Complex to see if masks had been discarded there. Sure enough, there was one in a parking space just 20 feet from the entry. As I looked at that mask, I thought about how many organisms might be growing in it. I thought about the number of vehicles that might have driven over it and left remnants of any roadkill or feces that might have been transferred from those tires. And I thought about some mom or dad meeting their young children in that parking lot, because a Cherokee school bus routinely stops behind the GLW on weekdays. Have the parents educated their children enough to know that there is danger in handling things that have been exposed to other people, animals, and elements? After all, when they are in the stores, they try on shoes and clothes that have possibly been tried on by others. Why not a mask in a parking lot?
Just like you, I wish this time in our history was over. I don’t know of anyone who wears masks, at least this type of mask, that does so for the fun of it. But for now, it is what we must do. And some folks may just be careless with their mask-droppings. They start to get out of the car, or pull it out of their purses or pockets, and fumble it to the ground, sometimes without their knowledge. I would say to all that it only takes a minute to check around where you are to make sure you haven’t dropped a mask. And if you did, you should pick it up and throw it away before you grab your backup mask. And if you are leaving them and walking away on purpose, I hope you realize that you are basically leaving your own bodily waste for someone else to have to avoid or deal with. Think about your children or one of your family member’s children finding a stranger’s mask and playing with it. Hopefully, that will help you have a different perspective and possibly take different actions.
One day, maybe soon, we may have hope that our mask wearing days are behind us. Until that day comes, we all need to be respectful and considerate of each other, even when it comes to disposing properly of our masks. And please feel free to apply the same logic to all the other trash we seem to not be able to hit a trash can with on the Boundary. See you at the mask burning.