MASKING DIFFERENCES

About two weeks ago, I left the country for San Diego, my first trip outside of Canada since late 2019. As some of you are aware, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, so travel (which was already complicated pre-pandemic) had added risks and complications now.

Since I was going to the United States of America, I was a little apprehensive about witnessing first-hand the difference in attitudes towards the pandemic. We can agree that at a general level, citizens of Canada and the USA have approached the pandemic differently. Vaccination rates are higher and masking is more prevalent in Canada.

I wasn’t about to throw caution to the wind and do as Romans do and go maskless in San Diego though. Would I be the only one masked in crowded indoor places? Would I be shamed for wearing a mask? I didn’t know.

It was smooth sailing on the plane as the flight left from Canada and everyone was required to mask. From what I could tell, everyone took it seriously. Once I left the plane in San Diego and entered the terminal, there was near universal masking wearing. This was before the federal mandate was struck down by a Trump-appointed judge. At the time, Uber also required masks, so my trip to the hotel was also done in relative safety.

It was once I arrived at the hotel that I knew I was definitely in a new city and country. The hotel lobby was massive, busy and full of people. From the plethora of front desk staff working, only one was wearing a mask. It was honestly odd to see and initially unsettling. After checking in, I got to my room to drop off my stuff. I was really hungry and next door was a Cheesecake Factory, so I decided to grab some dinner there.

As it was Cheesecake Factory and even though it was only around 4:30pm or so, I still had to wait for a table. Inside, I was the only one wearing a mask as I waited to leave my name with the hostess. I was feeling a bit self-conscious but at least no one was giving me weird looks. Once I left my name for a table, I went outside and sat on a bench to wait. A parade of people were coming and going from the restaurant. I people-watched for five minutes before I saw this one couple entering the restaurant. They were both wearing masks, which made me think at least some people still wore masks here. A few minutes after that, I saw a whole family masked up.

It took a few days of exploring and seeing various places but I came to realize that while the majority of people were maskless, it would be very rare for me to be the only maskless person in indoor locations. Especially in touristy areas, like Legoland or the Gaslamp Quarter, there actually would be a fair number of masked people out and about. In fact, while I don’t mask very often outdoors, I did see a fair share of people masked outside, which is their right and prerogative.

After a few days, I became very comfortable with the whole situation. Being one of the few masked people indoors was second nature to me. No one gave me strange looks, nor did they say anything to me. It felt like there was a level of respect or at least, indifference to what each person preferred.

Near the end of the trip, I realized that with some luck, it’s quite possible to travel, enjoy a vacation, and be relatively safe about it. It’s been more than a week since I returned from San Diego and I’ve tested four times since then, all returning negative. San Diego remains one of my favourite cities to visit. It feels inclusive and safe, as it has been to me in the past.

Now I understand my experience may have been different depending on lots of factors. I may have been just plain lucky. I traveled to fairly liberal city on the west coast of California, sticking to mostly touristy areas. Had I visited say a small town in one of the southern states, my experience probably would have been very different.

Travel in general incurs a slight risk, especially in these times, but I didn’t feel like I had to compromise my own measures to vacation and that felt great.

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