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Please forgive me if this communique proves to be even more difficult than usual to decipher: I got distracted.

I generally pound out these words on Fridays, after my day job as a newspaper reporter comes to an end for the week. On this particular Friday night, however, my role as a columnist got underway much later than normal, since I was still trying to work out a solution to a puzzle that had been vexing me since hearing it outlined late Thursday.

In the past, I have pondered and then dismissed as personally unsolvable questions ranging from identifying the meaning of life to determining just what it is the universe is expanding into. But this puzzle really made me stop and wonder:

How to bring light, either ultraviolet or a very powerful beam of regular light, into the human body either through the skin or in some other way, where it could kill the coronavirus in one minute? What a concept!

My first thought was to jigsaw a portal in a patient’s chest cavity wide enough to install a reflector-equipped trouble light with a UV bulb. It would likely be the fastest and easiest approach, at least for those other than the patient.

But it turned out the question I had been pondering was meant as a joke — an unfortunate stab at sarcasm that went hurtling way over my head. Well, I know how tough it can be to land that type of material, so my thoughts and prayers go out to us both.

So, with that speedy solution to the pandemic no longer in play, I will turn my attention elsewhere — to the increasing number of colorful protective face masks I have been seeing in advertisements and, to a lesser degree, on people venturing outside their homes.

When medical-grade masks were in even scarcer supply than they are now, people began donning homespun masks made from handkerchiefs or leftover pieces of patterned cloth. Later, masks with patriotic, American flag patterns began to appear, along with masks featuring motorcycle motifs and then masks making it appear that the lower halves of faces were grinning skulls, smiling female faces with glossy lips, bearded men smoking cigars or blunts, or dogs.

To their credit, pricey labels like Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Chanel and Prada are churning out, and then donating, masks designed for use by medical professionals. So are outfits more in my league, like Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s and L.L. Bean.

But it seems likely that as the pandemic drags on, designers will eventually end up selling to the public — or at least those in the public still able to fork out what’s required to wear masks patterned with interlocked G’s, mounted polo players and the like.

If you see people sporting plaid face masks made from poplin cotton, or camouflage patterns on flannel, you will know that L.L. Bean and Bass Pro have entered the fray.

I just hope the crisis ends before Neiman Marcus has masks on the market. I can see them now: snug-fitting squares of ripped, paint-splattered denim, retailing for $800 each.

But it could be worse. Imagine red MAGA masks, fabricated from factory- produced material, made in China.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at, 304-348-5169 or follow

@rsteelhammer on Twitter.