First let’s talk paper toilet seat covers. All of us know what they are; many if not most of us use them. Yet, toilet seat covers are not known to prevent disease, and from a public health standpoint, they are pretty much useless. William Shaffner MD, Professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of medicine, tells us: “In terms of preventing illness and transmission of infectious disease, there’s no real evidence that toilet-seat covers do that.”
As a nurse of over 35 years, I have a better than average understanding of communicable disease. I know that a dry toilet seat with no visible grime is unlikely to transmit illness. I know that the intact skin of my behind is designed to keep me safe from infection, causing bacteria such as E-coli and streptococcus. I know that toilet seat covers are made of porous material that cannot hinder microscopic organisms. I know that using toilet seat paper covers is not environmentally friendly.
Still, in certain settings and situations, I will pull one from the dispenser and place it carefully on the seat. I know how to use it properly, punching out (but not removing) the center in order that it might float on the water and be flushed away when I am good and ready. I also know not to flush before I am prepared to leave in order to avoid aerosolized particles known as toilet plume, which can actually be a valid health concern. Yet to date I have not experienced one other person rattle my stall to let me know that “You don’t need that!” as I make discreet use of the cover provided.
Such is sadly not the case with public mask wearing, which can and does provide protection from airborne illness. In certain settings and situations, you will still see me and others wearing our masks, regardless of the lack of mandates. I have been surprised that people seem to find this remarkably objectionable. As a middle aged woman, I am mostly used to being ignored. Somehow, though, wearing a mask catches attention and compels bystanders to provide unwanted and unwelcome advice. I have heard “You don’t need that!” directed at myself and fellow mask wearers in a manner that flummoxed me at first. I am now growing used to their lack of manners and down-right discourteous comments. I can’t help but be a bit amused by the unnecessary remarks. It’s true, I may not need my mask, but it does me nor anyone else harm. It isn’t anyone else’s business why or when I wear it.
I may also take other precautions in order to maintain good health. After using the bathroom, I always wash my hands thoroughly with warm soapy water for 20 seconds. I don’t talk on my telephone while using the toilet. I attempt to eat a well-balanced diet and exercise regularly. I even take supplements that may or may not help me. It’s true, if you see me shopping, you may spy items in my cart that are not in my best interest health-wise. I do enjoy ice cream and other decadent treats, but I beseech you not to point this out. I already know I can do better. Still, the bottom line is I am trying to do my best.
Can we assume that everyone else is doing their best? I think we can and should. Can we all assume that others are worthy of our graciousness during trying times? I think we can and should. 1 Peter 3:8 advises us to sympathize with each other, to be humble and tenderhearted and to be like minded. Good advice always.
Many of us have different approaches to achieving and maintaining health and many reasons for the choices we make. But I do believe manners matter. Just as I would ask you to ignore my questionable food choices while I am shopping or dining out, I ask that you ignore my mask. I’m not asking for your approval or disapproval, but I do expect common courtesy. And if you find yourself unable to honor this humble request, know that I still have a smile on my face even if you can’t see, and know that I wish you well.