Does this count as a face mask?
Does this count as a face mask? Photo by Matt Baume

We’re all doing our best to adjust to long-term life in a pandemic, but one group amongst us might be uniquely prepared for this weird new world: Furries.

“I think that furries are more prepared for wearing masks for a prolonged period of time and I think that furries are more accustomed to interactions with friends online,” says Jaspersoot, an EMT. “Most of us have friends all across the globe, and while we cannot see each other at cons, we can still use Discord or similar software to spend time together.”

Without realizing it, the whole country is starting to adopt the same habits that furries have been practicing for years. So should we all just give in and become full-on furries as a matter of public health?

Furry medical workers are quick to point out that everyone should look to healthcare workers and the CDC for medical advice, not your local furry. “There is a lot of misinformation still that I see on furry social media on a daily basis about this virus,” says Chatah, who works for a company developing potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Nevertheless, this is a community already accustomed to some of the lifestyle changes we’ve had to explore in the last few months. Many furries are way ahead of the rest of us when it comes to face coverings — though it’s important to note that fursuits do carry their own health risks.

“Fursuit heads are multilayer, and constructed in a whole host of different materials and styles,” says Doc Wolverine, a medical doctor who often answers questions about health on Twitter. He points out that heads can minimize droplet spray from an infected person. Just like the cloth masks you (hopefully) see everyone wearing when you go to the grocery store, “Anything without an airtight seal and sufficiently small filter is more about protecting others from what you have than protecting you from others.”

There’s another benefit to wearing fursuits, Jaspersoot says. “They do prevent us from touching our face.” What’s more, the fake fur can create a surface that particles cling to, rather than drifting through the air.

“Best advice I can give to those wanting to fursuit in public during this pandemic is to wear a mask while suiting,” says Jaspersoot. “It can be a surgical, no reason for an N95 or P100 unless you are fursuiting in a COVID-19 wing of your local hospital.” In addition, “disinfect your suit and head with at least 80% alcohol, and wash your hands after handling your suit.”

But even though fursuit heads and products like Bandanimals (bandanas with animal muzzles printed on them) might offer some limited protection, the furry community has generally taken the same precautions as the rest of the country and cancelled large gatherings.

These two are being healthier than the people behind them. But fursuits are not PPE, say furry medical experts.
These two are being healthier than the people behind them. But fursuits are not PPE, say furry medical experts. Photo by Matt Baume

“Smaller gatherings with trusted people who have been mitigating risk should be okay,” says Doc Wolverine, “but zero tolerance for untrusted or new people should be enforced at this time. Super spreaders are a thing and have caused hundreds of deaths in some cases.”

Indoor meetups are particularly hazardous due to air circulation, which rules out normal furry conventions (as in the photo above, from a few years back). Coronavirus has been a major disruption for 2020’s many cons — Anthrocon, which draws nearly ten thousand furries to Philadelphia, was one of dozens of cons cancelled this year. In response, the community has rallied around online events, like CouchCon, Furality, and KeepCalmCon, among others.

"I miss cons so much," says Syrian, a nurse practitioner. "Unfortunately larger meetups like cons are a late phase activity along with concerts and festivals, and aren’t likely to happen until we have a vaccine. I think personally, I’ll be focusing on small gatherings with friends when things start opening more! I think we’re gonna need to get creative with hanging out and seeing people for the rest of the year, but I know one thing — those first cons back are gonna be a rager."

“I do not believe the cancellations were overreactions,” says Jaspersoot, “And apart from some individuals, I believe that the fandom has reacted appropriately to this national pandemic.”

In part, that’s because the fandom has members across a wide variety of industries and disciplines, including health care. “Those of us in the medical field have certainly contributed to the voice of reason to stay inside and quarantine. This was only amplified when a member of our community, a friend of mine, and a North Carolina EMT, Narka, passed away from COVID-19.”

He's not the only tragic loss in the community. Wikifur has so far tallied two other members of the community who passed away from coronavirus-related causes recently, though with over a hundred thousand deaths in the United States, the toll is almost certainly higher.

Doc Wolverine notes that as in any community, there’s been a split over proper precautions, and that the split generally fits along political lines. “That said, it's like 75-80% seem to be taking things seriously,” he says. “Furries are quick to spread info in easily digestible formats and the creativity is almost always directed towards making a better community, making furries more informed and altruistic... People value and do things for the community and general wellbeing over personal gain or comfort.”

At the moment, one of my favorite Twitter accounts is that of Cinder Collie, an ER nurse in Chicago who posts videos that provide a little glimpse into what it’s like to work in a hospital right now. There’s something endlessly fascinating about a chipper-voiced cartoon dog talking about neurological assessments and 18-gauge IVs and blood pressure.

"I think we can all learn from each other, not just people learning from furries," Syrian says. Listen to the experts in this, especially the experts with the CDC, WHO, and doctors and other healthcare providers who see this every day. Every person’s actions matter and you owe it to yourselves to be an active and educated consumer of your health to keep yourself and your loved ones safe."

For now, it’s impossible to know when life can go back to normal — for furries or for anyone else.

“Even once we have our first convention following this lock down, I would HIGHLY recommend wearing a mask at all times and decontaminating your fursuit and clothes with aerosolized isopropyl (rubbing alcohol),” says Jaspersoot. “Go at your own pace, and do not jeopardize your own safety just to have a good time.”

One furry pharmacist I spoke to who asked to remain anonymous summed it up pretty well. “Fursuits,” he said, “are not PPE.”