Out of the Office: Warming up to masks

A March 3 lead paragraph in a news story in The New York Times asked, “When can I throw away my mask?”

For me, the question is, “Will I throw away my mask?”

Let’s set aside for a moment what Ed Yong wrote in the September 2020 issue of The Atlantic: “Wild animals harbor an estimated 40,000 unknown viruses, a quarter of which could potentially jump into humans.”

Our public health policy makers should definitely worry about the next pandemic, but I can only handle one pandemic at a time. Another pandemic is not the reason I’m questioning tossing all of my masks when the opportunity arises.

I’ll admit there have been some positives to having to wear a mask when I go to cover school district sports events.

Several times I’ve been running a bit late and panicked that I wouldn’t have time to shave or brush my teeth, then suddenly had the relieving thought, “Wait a minute. Who cares? I have to wear a mask!”

But that’s also not the reason I’m questioning hurling my masks in the trash.

I’ve had a bad habit of mouth breathing throughout my lifetime. According to a 2016 TEDx Talk by Patrick McKeown, mouth breathing leads to less attractive facial features, snoring and less restful sleep.

Although it’s far too late for me to have attractive facial features, I have been trying to kick the mouth breathing habit in recent years. When I’ve had to wear a mask for extended period in work settings, I have found the pulling on the chin to be a useful reminder to keep my mouth shut.

But that also is not the reason I’m reluctant to fling my masks in the dumpster.

I love winter sports as much as the next person, and probably more than the next person. But, ironically, I hate being cold.

The mental weakness on display when I flinch in the face of cold has always bedeviled me.

As I’ve previously mentioned in Out of the Office, a YouTube video of Canadian physiologist Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht falling into lake ice shows just what the human body is capable of producing in the face of extreme cold.

Giesbrecht jumps into the lake and gives a 15-minute tutorial on what to do if you fall through the ice.

So why does my body tense so quickly when I step out of the office in the winter and am hit by a patented blast of Kenai wind?

A friend of mine, who actually likes winter activity more than me but whose body also snaps clam-shut in the face of cold, commented early this winter how much warmer she had felt walking to her car in the grocery store parking lot.

I, too, had noticed this. It immediately made me remember a Nov. 17, 2020, article on fasterskier.com. Alasdair Tutt writes, “Facial skin temperature may have an effect on the extent on bronchoconstriction you experience during exercise in cold temperatures due to temperature sensors in the nose, cheek and forehead.”

The mask!

Many wear hats that keep foreheads warm in the winter. My guess is a mask also keeps temperature sensors on the nose and cheeks warm, keeping the body from overreacting to the cold.

Slipping on a mask is an efficient way to avoid turtling on the walk to the car and on the drive home. The mask could also be a great tool to get off to a warmer start on outdoor winter excursions, or to battle spots on the trail that are exposed to a piercing wind.

So will I throw away my masks?

As much as masks have been a painfully divisive item, my guess is the masks avoid the trash due to some advice a grouchy reporter gave me about using whatever it takes to combat the cold when I arrived in Alaska over 20 years ago.

“Being tough is something greenhorns do,” he said, “because they don’t know any better.”