New Routine

[Written October 2020]

Let's get ready to go out into the world again, shall we?

Step 1: Face Mask

It's weird that our number one defense against COVID-19 is a basic face mask. First they said N95 masks were the best defense against the virus. And then they said that cloth masks were sufficient because N95 masks needed to be reserved for medical professionals. The longer the quarantines lasted, they clarified that masks with valves (many of them typically N95 masks) weren't ideal because they did not protect other people from that mask-wearers exhalations. But after 200 days under lockdown, there's no getting away from the need for a decent face mask.

I've gone through maybe 3 or 4 different types of masks over the course of the Metro Manila lockdown. Lighter surgical masks or basic cloth masks are sort of more comfortable but they don't feel all that reassuring. Not all reusable masks are made equal either. We tried some abaca masks, which were said to be a lot better at protecting the wearer from pathogens but they start to disintegrate once you start washing them. We got some fancier masks that are pretty comfortable around the ears but don't quite cover your face as much as one would like. It's so hard to find the perfect mask, really.

Step 2: Hand Sanitizer

As much as every retail establishment is require to have some sort of sanitation supplies available for the use of customers, it still feels most prudent to have one of your own on you at all times when you step out. In the early months of lockdown, there was a distinct shortage of alcohol and hand sanitizers and other cleaning supplies. Full bottles of 70% isopropyl alcohol were as good as gold back then.

Now I have a wide variety of travel-friend hand sanitizer bottles that wait by the door for people to use before stepping out. And when I say people I mean me. And I remind myself to slip one into my pocket before heading out. I'm not entirely sure why I do this after I put on my mask, but it's what works for me. And this is despite the fact that I think I have another one tucked into my bag at all times.

Step 3: Door Opener and Button Presser

The other thing I need to make sure is tucked into my pocket is the weirdly shaped piece of plastic that is my door opener and button presser. I had to get a friend to make one for me using his 3D printer, which is why the one I have is colored bright red because that's the only color filament he had left. It's pretty light and easy to hold in my hand, which is all you can ask for from such a tool like this.

Before I got this, I used to use my keys to press the buttons on elevators and such. It didn't help me for when I needed to actually touch doors, but it was better than nothing. But now I have this little piece of molded plastic that does the job just fine. I once tried adding it to my keychain, but that made it a lot harder to use without rubbing my keys all over different doors and surfaces. So now it just sits in my pocket.

Step 4: Face Shield

Depending on who you ask or which store you go to, face shields are either required or optional. I can never tell anymore which is which, so I just wear one whenever I step out. It's terribly annoying because the plastic sheeting distorts my vision - as if my already poor eyesight didn't have that department covered already. But everyone says that a face mask plus a shield offers over 90% protection against the coronavirus that's responsible for COVID-19.

I ended up with one of those face shields that say FACE SHEILD on the front because...I have no idea why. I guess we want to remind everyone to wear a face shield by wearing a face shield. Then any stranger I encounter might wonder what I'm wearing on my face before getting to read the very helpful FACE SHIELD text right across my forehead. Ingenious design, really. Makes total sense.

Step 5: Cap

This is probably a bit of overkill, but I like to wear a cap whenever I head out. Given the awkward shape of the face shield, it means that the cap rests on my head at a higher-than-normal angle so that the visor stays clear of the edge of the shield. I don't know why the cap makes me feel better, but it just does. I guess it feels like I'm limiting what parts of my head are exposed to the elements. And it provides a nice covering over the edge of the shield.

And it's not like I'm even a cap person. I think I really started wearing one past the first month of lockdown because my hair was a mess and we didn't have the option to go to barber shops anymore. What started as a questionable fashion choice to hide increasingly worse hair has now become a sort of security blanket.


Once I have all this on, I usually do a spot check of myself in the mirror to make sure I'm properly armored up against the virus before heading out. This exercise is a little useless since by now either my glasses or the face shield or both are fogged up with the condensation caused by my own breathing as warmer air builds up in the area safely behind the mask. But I figure that if I keep moving, the temperature will equalize a bit more and I'll at least have a good 40% visibility despite the constant fogging and misting of my own breath.

It's so much work to get ready every time I step out and so I limit my excursions to absolutely essential errands because I hate doing this every time. Is this what astronauts feel like whenever they prepare to go out for a space walk? At least those suits probably have some sort of temperature control, right? Here's me walking around withy a cloud of evaporated breath obscuring my vision.


It's when I'm just about to cross the street to leave our condo compound when I realize that I forgot my headphones. Shit. Are they worth going back for at this point? Will I bother taking off all this protective voodoo gear when I get back to my unit just to grab my headphones? Shouldn't I have declared those headphones a Step 6 or something?

God. I HATE this pandemic.