It has been a crazy year. The world continues to struggle against a global pandemic and our country continues the battle for Civil Rights--it has been one of the most tumultuous years many of us have experienced. I was born in 2000 and was alive during the recession in ‘08, but, with all of eight years of life experience, it was impossible for me to comprehend what was happening at the time.

            2020 has been an entirely different experience. The arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S. shook me, along with many of my close friends. It was first marketed as a virus that was deadly to the elderly and asymptomatic for me and my peers. My friends came back from Spring Break completely healthy and, in that moment, I think all of us felt immune.

            But the year progressed, as it always has and always will. Schools migrated to virtual learning and we continued to be told that this would blow over. The virus got worse and the president continued to say that it would be gone as the weather warmed up. Which it seemed to do alongside masks becoming commonplace and an almost complete shutdown of public spaces.

            When the semester ended, new cases had seen a decrease and I was given the opportunity to stay with some extended family in Florida and work with my uncle at his restaurants. Florida restaurants were only permitted to open 75 percent of their seating and my uncle only allowed 50 percent of it. I would wear a mask when working and I thought the customers would too. Afterall, that was what Memphians and Michiganders, where I grew up, were doing at the time. So, why would it be different in the sunshine state?

            My naivety had definitely gotten the better of me. I arrived on my first day of work to see not a single family wearing masks. The following day yielded the same results. Being the curious individual that I am, I began to ask why masks had disappeared.

            “Florida cancelled COVID,” was the response that stuck with me.

            I was perplexed with the statement, to say the least. The U.S. was still experiencing around 28,000 new cases a day, according to numbers published by the New York Times. Although that number would decrease to around 23,000 in June, an average citizen could see that the decrease was not sustainable.

            The restaurant that I worked at had its first positive result for COVID-19 in early July. A few days later, all of the employees--including myself--were sitting in a waiting room to get tested. It was like we were playing a sadistic game of The Price Is Right. One by one we went back and got tested until all ten of us had our results back. Two employees tested positive while the rest of us sighed in relief with our negative results.

            It was only a few days after that when the news broke about cases spiking and Florida was on pace to become the epicenter of a world-wide pandemic, which it ultimately did. Cases spiked to an average of 66,000 new cases a day, across the nation, and I was living in the eye of the storm.

            The logical decision for the governor would be to shut down the state again, just like last time. But the only places that were flagged to be shut down were bars, which were defined as locations that made more than half of their revenue off of alcohol sales.

            So, back to work I went. The location I worked at adjusted their hours from 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. to 3 p.m. - 9 p.m. in order to protect the employees. This was when my naivety struck once more. On the day of our re-opening, I thought people would be wearing masks again, but I could not have been more off the mark.

            Customers still were not wearing masks and I was dumbfounded. How could they be so inconsiderate, so careless and show such little regard for my, or my co-workers’, safety? Coupled with the lack of masks came the fact that we were serving more food, making more money and having larger groups come in than before. It was infuriating.

            On the rare occasion that a customer was wearing a mask, I would receive questions such as, “Are masks required to come inside?” or, “Do you enforce masks in your restaurant?” Which we did not, so I would respond with a reluctant, “No, masks are not required.”

            It pained me to see the masks come off and not follow up by recommending that they should still wear one for mine or my co-worker’s wellbeing, but I would merely bite my tongue and carry on with my day.

            Day after day, customers would flood the restaurant and I would wonder if this would be the day I catch it. Thankfully, that day never came.

            For those who believe that other people wearing a mask is an excuse to not wear one yourself, that is blatantly incorrect. The CDC states on its website that, “a mask may not protect the wearer, but it may keep the wearer from spreading the virus to others.”

            I read an opinion piece in the New York Times that compared wearing a mask to drunk driving. The more I thought about the idea, the more similarities I began to find. It should not be a “personal choice” to wear a mask, as some public officials have stated. Although you may be safe from others, you put others at risk. It works the same way with drunk driving. Just because there are sober people driving, does not mean you have the “personal choice” to drive while intoxicated and put others in danger.

As it stands now, there will be sports and other events going on throughout the semester. But, like many things in our current state, nothing is certain. With all but seven division 1 NCAA conferences cancelling their fall seasons, there is a shroud of doubt that there will be competition this year.

Music festivals are also being postponed or cancelled. Even though restaurants are opening, it is still very unlikely that we will witness movie theaters opening up again in 2020. If we want to return to some semblance of normalcy in life, it is important to #MaskUpMemphis.

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