There’s no real way around it. The first time I ran an errand with a face mask on last week, I felt like a dork.

It wasn’t particularly comfortable, either physically or mentally. While I got used to the feel of the mask quickly enough, the mental side of things took a bit longer. It looks odd, but that’s the recommendation from health experts right now. I’m inclined to believe they know what they’re talking about.

I have no idea whether the mask is making any difference. The thing that struck me this week is that, if I’m lucky, I’ll never know whether it did. If I’m lucky, I won’t get sick, and I won’t know whether that was because I somehow dodged this virus or if the mask helped protect me.

Even if I do wind up contracting the COVID-19 virus, I won’t be able to say with any certainty that it was because the mask failed me. There are plenty of medical professionals who have gotten sick, even before the PPE shortage really began to bite.

The virus has forced everyone to deal with a level of uncertainty that we’re not familiar with. It’s not the uncertainty of whether tomorrow’s 50 percent chance of rain means grilling might not work. It’s a life-and-death uncertainty that most people don’t encounter routinely. That’s not easy to adapt to.

There’s even uncertainty about what normal may come to look like over the next year or so. We simply don’t know, and the experts are smart enough not to make too many predictions about it. They don’t know, either.

Most are fairly optimistic about a vaccine being developed. There are dozens in the works now, some of which have entered human testing programs. There aren’t any guarantees that one will work, but the odds are strong enough that people with a lot more experience in the field than you or me like their chances.

There are hopeful signs with testing on some drugs that might help treat the virus. Absent a way to prevent becoming sick in the first place, an effective treatment is critical. But, again, there are no guarantees.

One of the things it takes a while to get used to in this job is how frequently you feel uncertain. There are times when a reported is 95 percent sure something is true, more than enough for most purposes, but the 5 percent is an invitation to a lawsuit you probably won’t win. It’s not enough in those situations to be confident. You don’t know unless you know. And that 5 percent means you don’t know.

I adapted to that reasonably quickly. Of course, I was also the student who argued with the teacher that “I don’t know” accurately reflected my knowledge of an answer on a test. It was thus a correct answer, if not what she was looking for. (No, I didn’t win that one.)

I don’t know isn’t an answer many people are comfortable with. But it’s rarely false. And, if you follow it up by finding out the facts, it can be a very useful answer.

So I don’t know how the next few weeks will turn out. I don’t know whether that mask will do a single thing to help me. But I’ll follow the advice from medical experts. I’ll probably feel a little less like a dork each time, but I doubt the feeling will ever entirely go away.

And if I’m lucky, I’ll never know if it helped.

— Matt Milner can be reached at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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