Comment: Why I’m keeping my mask on when indoors

My football coach warned against letting one’s guard down near game’s end. The advice applies now, too.

By John M. Barry / Special To The Washington Post

High school coaches often have a lot of influence on their players. At Classical High School in Providence, R.I., my football coach was named Al Morro; he had been a national junior champion in the discus and a tough-nosed lineman on an undefeated Boston College football team, and though he has been dead for more than 16 years, I think of his words often these days.

Morro was old-school, grabbing our face masks and twisting our heads around and sometimes smacking us. I recall at one halftime he warned he’d hit us harder than any opponent.

If he sounds like a horrible man, he wasn’t. He recognized, and got us to see, that our biggest opponent in life was ourselves. If we could perform at our best, winning would take care of itself.

One Morro lesson seems particularly relevant to where we are now in the pandemic: He often said that late in a game, when both teams are tired, some players get sloppy while others somehow concentrate even more, focus more, push more; and win.

He illustrated this with film of BC playing also-undefeated Tennessee in the 1941 Sugar Bowl. Late in a tie game on a key play, Morro knocked down an All-American Tennessee lineman but threw the block too soon; the play was a slow-developing reverse, and the film showed that the lineman could have easily gotten up and stopped the run. Instead, clearly tired, he didn’t hustle and missed the tackle. Boston College scored on the drive and won.

Today seems much like the situation Morro often talked about. We’re all tired. More than anything, we want the coronavirus to be over. The fact that we can see the end — or, at least, what we hope will be the end — makes us that much more eager to rush to embrace it. Future variants will determine whether the end really is near; meanwhile, some states are abandoning restrictions.

In some places, that step might be reasonable; in others, it’s premature. For that reason, what individuals do becomes more important than ever. Now is the time to focus.

I am not a perfectionist. I do not believe in the bromide that everything worth doing is worth doing well. Some things are worth doing although they are not worth the time or energy required to do them well.

But some things must be done well, and paying attention to covid is one of them.

That does not mean isolating yourself. It does not mean living in a box. It means being prudent and careful. It means, in addition to vaccination and masks, following Japan’s “3 Cs” – avoid crowds, close contact and closed spaces. That approach helped Japan limit its death toll to fewer than 20,800 over the past two years.

One of the most important public policy questions coming out of the pandemic is how much of Japan’s comparatively “successful” handling of it is attributable to near-universal compliance with the 3 Cs, masking, a different approach to contact-tracing and selective controls, and how much is attributable to such other factors as fewer nursing homes. Had the United States matched Japan’s performance, only about 55,000 Americans would have died since covid began, instead of the more than 920,000 lives we have lost.

For me, paying attention to covid means monitoring local conditions and adjusting. In New Orleans, as in most other places, the omicron surge is rapidly declining, but the absolute numbers are still worrisome. For now, I don’t wear a mask outdoors. I go out for coffee every morning but sit inside only if I’m next to an open door. I socialize with friends who are equally careful. I go to restaurants, eating outside. I even go to the gym, a high-risk activity, but I mask and exercise next to open windows. When the numbers get good enough, I’ll return to dining inside and abandon my mask indoors.

But not yet. Until then, I’m channeling Al Morro.

John M. Barry is the author of “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History and distinguished scholar at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

FILE — In this Sept. 17, 2020 file photo, provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Chelbee Rosenkrance, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, holds a male sockeye salmon at the Eagle Fish Hatchery in Eagle, Idaho. Wildlife officials said Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, that an emergency trap-and-truck operation of Idaho-bound endangered sockeye salmon, due to high water temperatures in the Snake and Salomon rivers, netted enough fish at the Granite Dam in eastern Washington, last month, to sustain an elaborate hatchery program. (Travis Brown/Idaho Department of Fish and Game via AP, File)
Editorial: Pledge to honor treaties can save Columbia’s salmon

The Biden administration commits to honoring tribal treaties and preserving the rivers’ benefits.

Editorial cartoons for Monday, Oct. 2

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Comment: Online retailers should follow FTC’s lead in Amazon suit

The antitrust suit provides a rule book on how to incentivize rather than punish sellers and customers.

Comment: Starbucks’ reusuable cups aren’t so climate-friendly

Some reusable products generate more emissions than the disposable items they’re meant to replace.

Comment: Parental vigilance of social media can go too far

A shift from “monitoring” to “mentoring” can allow teens to learn to make their own wise choices.

Eco-nomics: Climate report card: Needs more effort but shows promise

A UN report shows we’re not on track to meet goals, but there are bright spots with clean energy.

Comment: Child tax credit works against child povery; renew it

After the expanded credit ended in 2021, child poverty doubled. It’s an investment we should make.

Patricia Gambis, right, talks with her 4-year-old twin children, Emma, left, and Etienne in their home, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Maplewood, N.J. Gambis' husband, an FBI agent, has been working without pay during the partial United States government shutdown, which has forced the couple to take financial decisions including laying off their babysitter. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Editorial: Shutdown hits kids, families at difficult moment

The shutdown risks food aid for low-income families as child poverty doubled last year and child care aid ends.

Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, left, and Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, right, embrace after a special session to figure out how much to punish drug possession on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Olympia, Wash. Without action, Washington's drug possession law will expire July 1, leaving no penalty in state law and leaving cities free to adopt a hodgepodge of local ordinances.  (Karen Ducey/The Seattle Times via AP)
Editorial: Robinson smart choice to head Senate budget panel

A 10-year legislative veteran, the Everett senator displays a mastery of legislation and negotiation.

Most Read