Cough Cough

Covering Food in a Year with the Coronavirus: Just Wear a Mask

How to sum up the last 365 days? It's messy.

By Timothy Malcolm March 8, 2021

During a recent meeting at Houstonia, we discussed writing pieces reflecting on the last year—life with Covid-19. Honestly, I wasn’t excited to write anything. I’d already written hundreds of thousands of words about Covid-19 and the city’s hospitality industry. At times it all felt like word salad. What was I going to say in 500 words that could aptly reflect the blurry uniqueness of the last year?

I had nothing, and then we started hearing about the “mask-off” party planned for Wednesday at Concrete Cowboy on Washington Avenue.

What the hell. Just, seriously, what the hell.

That’s not a question. Look, I know people are ready to not wear a mask anymore and get really close to one another and party like it’s 2019 again. I’m sure that So Clutch Group, which operates a smattering of bar and restaurants along the Washington Avenue corridor, sees an opportunity to capitalize off of what these people want so badly. That I understand.

But what the hell.

How hard is it to wear a face mask? How hard is it to fit the strings around your ears and ensure the fabric covers your nose and mouth? It’s an act that shows the people around you that you care about them. That, hey, I don’t want you to get sick, and I don’t want you to worry about getting sick. This is me being kind at its most basic human level.

The author in April 2020.

I have been inside restaurants, have sat down and eaten dinner at close to a dozen places over the last year (that’s down from about 200 dine-in experiences in 2019). I have also been to the grocery store dozens of times, have been in public spaces a lot, and, folks, wearing a face mask is the easiest thing ever. Wrangling two kids while in public? Harder. Balancing a coffee while driving? Harder. Wearing a face mask? So easy that I’m laughing.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of people working in the hospitality industry over the past year. All of them are frustrated. They’re not making the money they’d like to make. Some have had to close businesses. But the overwhelming majority of these people tell me it’s better than being responsible for infecting someone that they know. Why is anything more of a priority than making sure people don’t get sick so that they may not die? 

Yes, I know that if you’re young, the fatality rate for Covid-19 is low. I also know that the fatality rate has decreased tremendously since the end of 2020. All great stuff. Big fan of that.

Yes, I also know that you can die in a number of other ways, that life is inherently a gamble—live now because tomorrow isn’t assured. Again, I can get behind that mentality in some cases, but not when what I do could negatively impact someone else’s life. 

It sucks when your kid is sick. Not long after my oldest daughter turned 2, she became increasingly tired with a regular cough, and she refused to eat or drink. It got so bad that my wife and I spent Easter Sunday 2018 in a hospital room as our kid received fluids through intravenous hydration therapy. We were a mess, running from specialist to specialist and bracing for bad news. Our every moment was a mixture of anxiety and preparation for the worst.

What’s the point of that story? I don’t like it when my kids get sick, so the last thing I want to do is bring home Covid-19. So, I wear a face mask. It’s fine. It’s easy. There’s nothing to it. Does it make me feel less tough? No. I don’t even understand what that means. Does it make me feel less free? No. Hell, we can go just about anywhere in this state. We can do anything. Wearing a face mask is like waking up. I do it because I’m supposed to do it, and I don’t think about it, and it’s fine. It’s easy. 

Nobody has had it easy this year. I’ve had it better than most, I admit, and I’m grateful. But this year has taken a toll on my being because what fuels me is being around people, experiencing things, sharing moments, living like others. It’s why I write about food and travel and other places. It’s my livelihood, and Covid-19—not the regulations—has stripped that from me to an extent. I’d rather people live and not get sick than me going on a pub crawl or watch live baseball. It’s fine. I can wait a year. I can wait two. The chances are good that my life will continue. Others? I’d like to improve their chances, too.

Still, I’ve felt that a part of me has been missing this year, so I’ve struggled a little with that. Juggling a full-time job with childcare, at least for a portion of the year, has been challenging. Again, none of us have had it easy. I’m still here and healthy. I’ve signed up for vaccine waiting lists and hope to get mine soon. After that, I’ll continue to wear a mask because it still makes sense. It’s easy.

But by that point, hopefully, I’ll get to see more people and experience more things. I can’t wait for that. My brother is getting married in August. I want to be there. What helps is that everyone else does their part and not maybe crowd together in a dark nightclub with no protection. Not now at least.

So that’s the year. It’s been hard with many losses and plenty of grief. Many of us have persevered. Some of us are thinking about other people, while some of us would rather get back to partying. It’s a mix. Nothing has been perfect. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m going to keep wearing a mask. I hope that you do, too.

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