This is a picture of me this morning on a way to a meeting of the bishop’s COVID19 committee, set up to advise him on the diocese’s response to the pandemic which is becoming more serious in Cambodia. I have only worn a face mask maybe twice in twenty years in Cambodia, both times when I was on a really dusty road for a long haul on the back of a motorcycle.

One of our former Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Jim McLaughlin, is a retired microbiologist. Several years ago he set up the first diagnostic laboratories in government hospitals here with funding from the US Department of Defense who likes to know what kinds of bad little things are floating around in different countries—viruses and other such which could potentially be weapons. Jim is here regularly and he never wears a mask. He said if a person is sick, THAT sick person should wear a mask. Or if your family is infected, then wear a mask. But to wear them on the street or on planes is rather non productive. The CDC agrees.

COVID19 is now becoming a major problem in Cambodia and with government encouragement it has been identified as a foreigner disease. And in the beginning it was foreigners, tourists and workers, who were first infected. Now it is community spreading and Cambodians are infecting each other but there is still resentment and–now more often–fear of foreigners. Wearing a mask is a psychological thing. People wear them because they feel they don’t have much control over their lives and are mostly at the mercy of diseases like COVID19. And with a weak health system that is basically true. My wearing a mask is not going to help prevent the spread of the virus here but at least it will reassure anxious local people that I am sensitive to the problem and am doing my share to combat the infection and not pass it on to them.