From the nocturnal euphoria to the prudence of the day after

Goodbye to the outdoor pandemic symbol. In addition to protecting, the mask has served for a year as a reminder of an invisible threat. Even in the most comfortable moments and with the lowest incidence of COVID-19, this piece of cloth attached to two ropes makes it clear that the health crisis is not over yet.

The relationship that we have generated with her has been changing and has suffered as many ups and downs as the peak of infections itself. From the initial rejection to the current satiety, through the fear of scarcity and ideological use, the life of masks in Spain has been counted by chapters and today it comes to an end. At least the first of them.

This Saturday – actually, Friday night – the Spanish stripped off their masks on the street in the rush of someone who takes off an uncomfortable garment when they get home. At the Puerta del Sol in Madrid, dozens of people celebrated it with songs and threw them into the air. The garbage was full of those who, optimistically, hoped to walk home, since public transport is still mandatory. That was the case of Patricia (20 years old), who at nine o’clock at night deposited her surgery in the bin closest to the terrace where she was going to have dinner in Madrid. “I later realized that I needed her to go to the bathroom,” he laughs. He was “saved” by a friend who had another in the car.

As on May 9, a kind of New Year’s Eve effect has accompanied the end of the measure, with euphoria, shouts of “freedom”, bottles in the streets and more police presence. Although the atmosphere has not been compared with the lack of control at the end of the state of alarm, at twelve there were few prudent with their faces covered.

But there are those who predict that complications will arrive from now on where they must be taken: interiors and means of transport for public use. “A couple of boys tried to get into the taxi, covering their mouths with a jacket,” says Fernando from the driver’s window and at the height of a zebra crossing in Pintor Rosales. The night looked “long” and does not rule out more episodes of this type in the future.

“We have not had any problem,” acknowledges instead the doors from a cocktail bar in Moncloa. “People take it outside to smoke, but without it they can’t get through,” he says. And the safety distance? The government regulation provides that it is not used as long as the meter and a half distance between non-cohabitants is guaranteed. Something that, in Madrid, has been conspicuous by its absence. Four police patrols parked in Sol spent part of the night approaching groups of people to indicate that, in crowds, you have to put on the mask even outside. By the way, some have been fined for drinking on the street.

A little earlier, a couple celebrated the end of the mandatory measure by kissing in front of the spotlights and a group of four girls waved them high as if they were a rodeo noose. But around the little theater de Sol, mounted at the foot of the headquarters of the Community of Madrid, the end of the measure has been less epic. In an avenue of bars and restaurants in the south of Madrid, many did not even remember her.

“It’s nice to feel the air on your face,” says Alejandro (35 years old), one of the forgetful people who was still wearing it at one in the morning. “This should have happened much earlier,” says the professor referring to his end outdoors, in which Spain has been stricter than most of its European neighbors. Sergio admits that it “bothered him” to take her outdoors, but understands that it has been maintained until now. “I have seen it logical for a matter of social responsibility and to ensure that people adapted to it,” he explains. Something that has worked in view of the images of the next day, in which prudence has shone in broad daylight.

On Saturday morning, south of Madrid and in a commercial area, many people have preferred to go out with it on rather than carry it in their pocket. And not only in the capital. Around 10 in the morning, in the Triana neighborhood, in Seville, most of the pedestrians wore a mask on the street, especially the older people. Taking her on the busiest streets is, in addition to a recommendation from health workers, an obligation in other countries such as Belgium, which overtook Spain in the standard but have included more nuances.

“It doesn’t cost me anything and if I’m not wearing it, I’m sure I’ll leave it at home,” says Angel (70 years old), retired and with two doses of the vaccine, as he throws the garbage. “I feel more protected and, above all, that I protect you”, says Dolores (89 years old), referring to the young people who are still not vaccinated. Nor does he rule out taking it off at some point during the long walks he takes with his daughters. “I’m older and I’m suffocating with the heat,” she says smiling. “I live with my parents and until I am vaccinated and I know that there will not be another regrowth, I prefer to use it,” says Martín, a 19-year-old Policy student, one of the young people who received this Saturday with a mask without any obligation.

The life of masks, by chapters: from scarcity to satiety

Masks are a symbol, but not only. Its value as a protection measure against the coronavirus has not been questioned, but it has had many nuances since March 2020. At first the masks jumped into the media arena precisely because of their scarcity. “I went every week to the pharmacy in my neighborhood and they had neither cheap nor expensive ones,” Sergio recalls. On April 23, the Government had to publish a regulation in the BOE on the maximum price of sanitary protection articles, such as hydroalcoholic masks and gels –in April, the former cost 0.96 cents and in November it lowered it to 72 cents–. Thus exploded the brief speculative bubble that began to be created in the face of lack.

Natalia, a pharmacist in Ibiza, remembers that it was difficult for them to find them even for themselves. The WHO ruled that masks should be targeted at healthcare professionals, but pharmacists counted only as essential workers. In addition, the priority of the communities at that time was “not to alarm the population,” so they sent a circular to the pharmacies saying that they should not use gloves or screens. “I was not infected by a miracle,” explains the young woman. Marcos, a butcher in Madrid, acknowledges that in the first days of March “the use of masks was not yet clear or mandatory and you saw people wearing sunglasses. snowboard, plastic bags on the head and two or three pieces of cloth tied in the mouth. “A scenario that he defines as” grotesque “and that luckily did not last long.

Once they began to arrive more assiduously, people threw themselves at them like toilet paper. It was also then that the Spanish Asian community began to be destigmatized, which began to take them weeks before declaring the pandemic and many had to suffer racist insults for it. “It bothers us that the Spanish do not take the coronavirus seriously”, they said then.

With the de-escalation, the “pledge” that before the coronavirus crisis caused rejection and mistrust and later it became the most precious asset of pharmacies, it served as a claim to businesses that need to boost their sales. Was the boom of personalized fabric masks, according to style and ideology. With them also came the debates about its suitability and the type of mask. While Germany and Austria have recently imposed FFP2 masks in places such as public transport or shops, and discourage or prohibit fabric masks, many other countries such as Spain, the United States or the United Kingdom do not force the use of specific masks among the general population.

This diversity of types has reverted to a diversity of uses, almost all bad, since sThere is only one way to protect using a mask: adjust it and cover the nose and mouth well. “Until recently I had two surgeries, one on top of the other, but with the heat I have switched to FPP2,” replies Nieves, a 63-year-old civil servant, who is still waiting to receive the second dose of AstraZeneca. Spaniards, according to the CIS, have opted for disposables (92%) and use an average of 5.5 per week.


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