“Our lives have changed”

Publication: Sunday, March 14, 2021 7:03 AM

A year has passed since Spain was crippled by the coronavirus. One could not imagine then what would happen: more than 70,000 deaths, months of imprisonment and endless restrictions with which to live in what would be called the “new normal”. Among them, the mask, which in the space of 12 months left the operating theaters to become an ubiquitous accessory in the daily life of citizens.

Sobre ellas han corrido ríos de tinta desde entonces, pero en los primeros momentos de la pesadilla sanitaria reinaba el desconocimiento: hasta poco antes de aquel viernes 13 en que Pedro Sánchez anunció el estado de alarma, muchos nunca se habían planteado llevos una everyday. “It had never crossed my mind,” admits Claudia, who only started using it on her first outings for walking and exercising in Alicante, after the country had been locked away at her home for more than ‘a month.

Before the pandemic, they weren’t even that common in healthcare. Carlos, an emergency doctor at the Doctor Negrín hospital in Gran Canaria, recalls that he used it “practically nothing”, except in patients suspected of tuberculosis or for very specific procedures. From now on, each in his service wears an FFP2 and sometimes even an FFP3.

But, with the drip from the first infections, we also saw the first masks appear in the streets. “It seemed to me that this created alarm and an unjustified fear”, remembers Elena, who lived this moment in Madrid, epicenter of one of the first epidemics in Spain. When he wanted to put one, already in full quarantine, obtaining it was an impossible mission: his first “mask” – he says – was in fact a solution “with paper towels and rubber bands”.

To the mandatory mask

Mercedes, for its part, had already seen them during a trip to China in 2019, during its visit to Wuhan, months before the first cases of a strange atypical pneumonia were detected there which would end up putting the world under. control. At the end of February last year, he traveled from the Canary Islands to Italy, when news of contagions was already arriving from the transalpine country. It is precisely for this reason that he wanted to buy a mask for the flight during the stopover in Barcelona. From what they told him at the pharmacy, “they were already out of stock.”

WHO still had more than a week to declare a global pandemic in the face of the relentless advance of the virus, but the Mobile World Congress had already been canceled and the first case had been detected in Barcelona, ​​as nervousness subsided. reflected in the demand for masks. In fact, the pharmacist advised him not to buy it. At the time – and would continue to be the case for several weeks – its use in healthy people was not recommended.

Thus, during a good part of the confinement, trips to the supermarket were open and it was not until May that the first measures began to be taken to make it compulsory: first in public transport and , later, in closed spaces and on the street, when this was not possible, keep a safe distance. A nuance which, autonomy after autonomy, would eventually disappear throughout the summer of the shoots. It has even been made compulsory on the beaches of many cities.

For Dr Óscar Zurriaga, vice-president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology, this gradual change in indications on the mask, both from national health authorities and from the WHO, is partly explained by the initial shortage, but also by less knowledge than then had the behavior of the virus. “At first there weren’t enough masks,” he recalls, noting that “the role of aerosols” in their spread was not so well known.

A complicated adaptation

After supply problems at the most critical moments of the first wave, masks can be found practically everywhere today, from supermarkets to department stores. At the Calatrava 34 pharmacy in central Madrid, they can sell up to 45 a day.

However, the manager, who during childbirth was a pharmacist at the Infanta Cristina de Parla hospital, has not yet forgotten that “at the time there was a shortage of equipment and in pharmacies, of course, he there were hardly any masks, not even surgical, to supply the population. “Almost a year later, he says, they are still” one of the most demanded products. ” The one they ask you the most now: the FFP2.

“Before, I had to take it off for a while to breathe. Finally, you get used to it “

But the adaptation was not easy. Overnight, we went from never having used a mask to scrutinizing labels for previously unknown approvals. We also made mistakes: putting it on, taking it off and not knowing what to do with it when the de-escalation allowed the long-awaited return to the terraces.

“I wasn’t sure how to use it,” recalls Jennifer, who the first time she bought one had to ask “which part was out, blue or white”. “It took me a while to get used to exercising outside,” adds the young woman. Now, looking back, it is clear to him: “Since masks are mandatory, our lives have changed completely.”

In Raquel’s case, she started using it to work in front of the audience, at a bakery in the French city of Lyon, where the heat from the oven didn’t exactly make things easier. “I had to go back and take it off for a while to breathe,” he recalls. Back in Spain, he had no choice but to do it, among other things, to go to class: “Now look, a lot of hours at a time and so comfortable. In the end you get used to it” , he says to him.

Others, like Laura, lack barrier-free communication between the two, “not being able to smile at people or see their faces and what they are expressing”, but also little things like “not being able to paint their lips. “. Of course, he jokes, with an “everyone looks a lot prettier” mask.

Until when?

A year after it all started, and with the long-awaited vaccination already underway, the question many are now asking is how long the mask will continue to be a part of their lives. Dr Zurriaga is not going to risk an appointment: “It will depend on how the situation develops,” he says. According to him, when there are no more cases, admitted or dead, “we can start to think about it”, but “of course, it will not be the next day”.

“The mask is probably here to stay”

In any case, even if it is no longer mandatory, Mercedes and Jennifer are ready to continue using it in closed or crowded places. Claudia, meanwhile, says she would only use it “in very specific cases”, such as visiting people at risk. For his part, Raquel believes that “it is not a bad idea” that it becomes a habit “when you are with more people and that you are bad”. Not in vain, says Carlos, in the emergency room “this year there was hardly any flu”.

In this sense, Zurriaga maintains that the mask “probably came to stay”, in the same way – he points out – to the one that was already prevalent in some Asian countries: “Probably, in the future we will not be ashamed of put on a mask on the day we are constipated “, sums up the epidemiologist. So do we have a mask for a while?” For a few months, of course, and the “months” can be double digits, “he said. abandoned.

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