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Your Masked Travel Selfie Won’t Save You

Air travel is a risk during the pandemic — and these photos don’t change that

All right. It’s been eight months since the U. S. first attempted some haphazard response to the transmission of coronavirus within its borders, and the pandemic is worse than ever. Of course, millions of Americans live every day in utter denial of this fact. As the Centers for Disease Control caution us not to travel whatsoever for Thanksgiving, many are planning to do exactly that, then celebrate with large groups indoors. No price too high for normality.

If you do insist on flying home next week for some dry-ass turkey — which, again, epidemiologists are begging you not to — perhaps you can at least spare us the performative image that now tends to precede evidence of socially non-distant reunions with friends and family: the masked plane selfie. You’ve seen this, I’m sure. It’s a confession of risky behavior, crafted to lend the impression of utmost safety. The natural inclination to brag online about our jet-setting collides with the likelihood of spreading or catching a serious disease by embarking on such a journey. Since you’ll soon be posting from your must-attend event or vacation, you must first demonstrate that you took all necessary precautions in getting there. (As you might imagine, this strategy is somewhat undercut when a person in the background is not masked.)

Who is this picture for? Not the follower who has chosen to stay home rather than potentially become a transcontinental carrier of the virus. It is, like so many selfies, mostly for the person who shared it — self-absolution for a choice that, if you pay attention to the news, should be loaded with guilt. Better that you would pull a Kim Kardashian and skip straight to the party shots instead of trying to convince us that packing into a metal tube with a couple hundred strangers is no big deal right now. Fine! Go do your thing! We can’t stop you! Just don’t ask for a thumbs up because you complied with the airline’s rules. No bonus points for doing the least.

Besides, isn’t this tempting fate, a bit? COVID-19 skeptics have done great harm by sowing misinformation on the efficacy of masks, but on the other side, some believe them to offer complete, almost magical protection. If you’re unlucky enough to be infected anyway — which you’re also bound to announce on social media — that selfie is going to seem like an embarrassing harbinger of a preventable outcome. And for the record, the airplane bathroom is not some kind of sterilized zone where it’s safer to take the mask off. Quite the opposite, I’d say!

Seriously, give it a rest. Watch a movie, read a book, take a nap. Your camera roll will survive. Let’s hope the human species can.

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