COVID-19 — The South Unmasked: A Travel Log

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This past weekend, my wife Leslie and I took a 1,000-mile trek from Baton Rouge to Hyattsville, Maryland, ahead of our relocation to Hyattsville next month. Our cross-country road trips are bound to consist of a few things: arguments over what music is played, conversations about future plans, periods of reflection and multiple bathroom breaks.

The route from the Deep South to the not-so-south, but still south (Maryland is technically below the Mason Dixon) during the coronavirus pandemic is interesting to say the least. There is the beauty of the landscape, the highway confluence of large pickup trucks draped in Confederate insignia and lots of billboards emblazoned with images of sketchy looking people running for political office: all of this is completely on-brand.

The other thing that traveling through the south during COVID-19 gives is an up close view of the cultural warfare between Americans who believe that wearing masks and face coverings are critical to mitigating the spread of the virus, and Americans who are moving about bare-faced in the name of not having their liberties infringed on.

We had to make various stops at different times of day and what I observed in states like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee was high volumes of folks walking into gas stations and truck stops unmasked. In many instances, there were attendants and cashiers servicing the public with masks pulled down below their chins.

For a minute, I thought I was living in an alternate reality, but quickly realized that this level of non-adherence to coronavirus protection was not abnormal for this region of the country; I just had not been out much and this is very aligned with how many southerners had been rockin’ for months.

Back in June, southern states were experiencing an astronomical surge in new virus cases. The region was a battleground for in-fighting among governors and mayors of major cities over mask mandates. Several elected officials in southern states were following Donald Trump’s lead of denial and questionable science in how they were handling the crisis, and citizens of their states paid the toll in contraction rates and deaths.

For the longest, it appeared that the nation was speaking two different languages with respect to the importance of social distancing and mask-wearing. Thousands of deaths later, many southern states have begun instituting mask mandates, to the recent benefit of their populations.

But I’m telling y’all, that even though there has been somewhat of a very recent decline in cases in the south, my eyes witnessed the difference in mask wearing as we made our way up the map. In fact, by the time we made it to Hyattsville, there was damn near no one I came across that was not wearing a mask.

I could get into the fact that Hyattsville has an expansive Black and brown population and how about 90% of those residents I encountered were masked up compared to their white counterparts, but that’s a whole other article.

I am hopeful that more people in my home region began to reconsider their aversion to wearing masks. At one of the stops in Alabama, I saw a white lady wearing a Trump 2020 face covering. The irony was super rich, but at least she was protecting herself.



At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:

Coronavirus 411

The novel coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2, is a virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus, which causes COVID-19, spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.

COVID-19 originated in Wuhan, China and has spread to 188 countries. More than 23.45 million people around the world have become infected and more than 809,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic.

President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases. The U.S. now has 5.70 million confirmed cases and more than 176,000 deaths.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms include chills, repeated shaking, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine.