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That woman in the surgical mask? It's me.

With the flu season continuing through May, I refuse to spread infection.

Freelance writer Ann Votaw wears her surgical mask

Freelance writer Ann Votaw wears her surgical mask while waiting for her subway train on April 9, 2019. Photo Credit: Ann Votaw

As flu season continues in NYC, I enjoy looking like a character from “M*A*S*H.” My shamelessness in donning a surgical mask is a response to the sneeze droplets flying around in the subway.

In December, the state Health Department said influenza would be prevalent in New York. The announcement put into effect a 2013-14 regulation requiring unvaccinated health care personnel to wear surgical or procedure masks in patient areas.

But the masks should be trendy for everyone. They’re not as effective at preventing the spread of influenza as vaccinations, according to the Health Department, but they can decrease transmission of the virus from people experiencing respiratory issues.

I got the shot in September, and unlike some of my co-workers, I recently experienced a mild case.

During my short recovery, I was thankful I took precautions in the fall. Because different viruses circulate each season, I likely caught a version not covered by the shot. Even so, annual vaccines may reduce the severity of symptoms among people who do get ill, according to experts.

Several years ago, the bug struck me so hard I missed weeks of work and wages. Although most people recover after a week or two, never forget that the ever-changing microscopic virus can be fatal. Nationwide, 79,400 people died from influenza during the 2017-18 season, an unusually severe period, according to the CDC.

And with the flu season continuing through May, I recently bought a package of 50 powder-blue masks that fit comfortably over my nose and mouth. I’ve worn them in crowds at work or on the train. Not only do I want to avoid projectile cough molecules, I refuse to spread infection in case I am coming down with something myself.

When I see veiled subway passengers, I imagine the Great Plague. So, I hoped fellow straphangers would fear me and give me space. But New Yorkers aren’t fazed by another rider with a gimmick. I still have to fight for a seat, even when I shield most of my face and sport a bedazzled furry white hat topped with a pompom. I look like a cotton swab trying to outsmart a facial recognition system.

Once, though, I sat across from an unpleasant acquaintance. Fortunately, she didn’t recognize me, so I didn’t have to talk to her!

One more reason I recommend the masks, which come in digital camo and floral print.

Ann Votaw is a freelance writer in New York City.


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