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Column: Wearing a mask isn’t easy for us Hawaii folks

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                May Goya passed a store window with a ‘Stay Strong’ message on it, Waialae Ave., Saturday.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    May Goya passed a store window with a ‘Stay Strong’ message on it, Waialae Ave., Saturday.

While covering our faces, let’s just face it. Keeping to ourselves is harder here than it is for people who live elsewhere.

We use hugs and kisses to express goodwill, share comfort and strength and celebrate family and friendship. It’s as local as taking off your shoes when you enter a home. But have you ever tried to hug and kiss someone from 6 feet away while wearing a mask?

At least we’ve still got the shaka.

Perhaps, though, the very thing now pushing us apart physically — the threat of a killer virus — can bring us together, in another way.

>> PHOTOS: Oahu residents don face masks while in public

Can we change our mindset about social distancing, and look at covering up our faces and crossing the street as someone approaches from the other direction as signs of concern and respect, not fear and avoidance? Because we live on an island we’re dependent on close cooperation, even though in these times it means steering clear of others.

It won’t be easy, but we have a chance because ultimately, it’s who we are. And because of people like Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami. Where else would an elected official personally teach how to make a protective face covering out of an old shirt?

“My mask is to aloha you, your mask is to aloha me,” Kawakami says at the end of the instructional video.

That is counterintuitive if you still don’t know that covering your mouth and nose is more to protect others from the coronavirus than to shield yourself. (With that said, we need to know that a face covering is no panacea. And, despite that, the scarce really good personal protective equipment is for the health-care pros and first responders who need them more than we do.)

For the foreseeable future, caring won’t be through sharing good times and creating happy memories at the beach or the ballpark or big house parties. To borrow a phrase from the kind of March Madness we much prefer, the NCAA basketball tournament that would be finishing up Monday, it’s all about survive and advance.

I wasn’t all-in on this until recently; the masks seemed silly. After scoffing at them last month, I became a mask wearer Thursday morning when Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said it would be a good thing to do. A friend who works for the federal government in disaster planning had advised me about two weeks ago not to wear one, but also to pay attention for changes in official recommendations.

In 2018 and last year while dealing with asthma, bronchitis and sinusitis, I often had to wear a mask, and hated it. But it was necessary; even the tiniest bit of cigarette smoke triggered coughing fits and breathing difficulties that made me a regular at the Kuakini ER. If I had those symptoms now, I’d be freaking out for obvious reasons. But all of that was addressed last year, and physically I have no complaints other than the normal aging stuff.

Thankfully, now when someone asks how I am, I can say “fine.”

But maybe the real answer is “I feel fine, but don’t know if I am fine.”

How many of us have this potentially deadly virus in our bodies without knowing it? Even if symptoms don’t show after a 14-day quarantine, not enough is known about COVID-19 to guarantee you don’t have it.

Normally, my sister Noe counts the days before she can come home to Hawaii. This time, she counted the days after she left to return to Ohio.

It’s been nearly three weeks now, and that gives her some relief — because no one she was in close physical contact with on this last trip has developed even a case of the sniffles.

Even though she lives the farthest from Hawaii, or maybe because of it, Noe is our family’s biggest hugger. She embraced her brothers, our mom, her niece, her niece’s babies, our cousin, our aunty and everybody else, many times. This year’s was a larger-than-usual family gathering, as it included another niece and a nephew who also live on the continent. We had a family and friends party on March 15, and everybody’s fine now. Wait, excuse me, everybody feels fine, so far.

She was glad to hear I’ve started to wear a mask.

“You can be asymptomatic and still pass it on,” said Noe, who has been an ER nurse nearly 25 years, and awaits a potential onslaught of virus victims at the hospital she works at in a sparsely populated area an hour’s drive east of Cleveland. She’s socially isolated herself, living with her daughter, Hillary, who is an LPN. It’s to protect her husband and Hillary’s daughters, and to be healthy when it’s their time to join the front lines. She said that might be in two weeks, but no one really knows.

It’s a moving target, it’s invisible, and it’s a time bomb.

But we can beat it, regardless of how tedious the new rules become physically, emotionally, psychologically.

I try to think of the uncomfortable mask as an investment for many future hugs and kisses, and keep in mind the much bigger sacrifices others make for all of us.

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