My Return to In-person Events Was a Success
How a simple request made a recent event accessible for this columnist
Last week, I went to my first indoor, in-person event since January 2020. Honestly, I’d spent a majority of the time since the COVID-19 pandemic began thinking that my days of attending indoor events were behind me.
The fact of the matter is that the more people go unmasked indoors, the less accessible those indoor spaces are to people like me who have cystic fibrosis or other health conditions that make us vulnerable. We’re at a higher risk of experiencing severe or fatal complications if we contract viral illnesses like the flu and COVID-19.
For context, I consider Alabama home, but during school semesters, I live in Arkansas. Wearing a mask shouldn’t be political, yet neither state has enforced vaccination and mask mandates.
As a graduate student, it’s part of my responsibility to attend live reader events hosted by my department. While there was the option to attend virtually, one benefit of being in a Master of Fine Arts program is having the opportunity to meet writers being published and have those in-person conversations we all missed. Plus, readings are inspirational to my own writing process. So much of art, I think, has to do with inspiration, bouncing ideas and thoughts off one another.
Besides that, I received my updated COVID-19 Novavax booster, which, according to the World Health Organization, has been proven to be 90% efficacious. I trust the science, and I deserve equal and equitable access to the events that my colleagues are participating in, so I decided to attend the event in person, hoping that my certified N99 mask would do enough to protect me.
Since much of the population has forgone masks by this point, I reached out to faculty in my program and asked if we could suggest that masks be worn at the event. I hoped that simply asking people to care about one another and disclosing the need for protective measures might increase the percentage of people wearing masks. After all, at this stage of the pandemic, it’s about risk reduction: The more people wear a mask, the less chance there is of the COVID-19 virus spreading.
Doing right by others
On the night of the event, I sat in the back corner of the room, thankful that the library’s chairs had wheels I could use to socially distance by (probably not so subtly) rolling away from the people sitting around me.
“Welcome, everyone,” said the faculty member standing at the podium. “I want to take a moment before we get started to say that we do have some immunocompromised people in the room. It looks like we mostly have our masks on, but in the spirit of being tenderhearted toward one another, if you want a mask and don’t have one, we have them in the back and are happy to bring them to you. So thanks in advance for that.”
I watched as several unmasked people turned toward the back of the room, many with something I’d describe as worry or fear in their eyes. I imagine they were wondering who near them might be vulnerable.
After a couple minutes of people stirring, rushing to put a mask on, I looked around and noticed that over 95% of the people in the mostly full room were masked. For the first time in years, I felt like I could simply exist in a room with other people.
It’s been over a week now, so I think it’s safe to report that my first in-person event since the start of the pandemic seems to have been a success. I’m proud of my department for setting a precedent by asking event attendees to mask up in person. Being inclusive and providing safe access always makes a difference.
Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.