The Covid-19 Mask Conundrum

Sometime back I signed up to receive The Washington Post’s “Coronavirus Updates” free newsletter. (If you’re interested in getting your own copy, you can sign up here.) The information offered in the newsletter isn’t generally anything new and/or earth-shattering, but at the end of each issue they share, and provide a response to, questions related to the virus  — and some of them can be very relatable.

Such a question was included in the latest issue, which I’m sharing here. I think many of my readers will identify with “Anne in Pennsylvania.”

“I live in an area with a large Republican majority. State law requires masks inside and outside. Today, I unfortunately was in a checkout line behind an unmasked 30-something female, very busy chatting up the cashier. I said nothing, because we were inside and the problem of aerosols would just have been aggravated. What is your advice for a courteous way to mention to people that their habits put my health at risk while still minimizing the risk of confrontation?” — Anne in Pennsylvania

This is becoming an unhappily frequent conundrum. On the one hand, we have scientific evidence that it’s especially dangerous to be near people who fail to wear masks. On the other hand, confronting such people risks increasing the chance of contagion, or even violence.

Nor do these bare-faced renegades appear to be going away. A small group of anti-maskers actually marched through a Target store in Florida this month, loudly inviting customers to join them.

Let’s first dispense with two obvious options for Anne: She could have simply left the store, though applying this advice globally would effectively surrender all public spaces to anti-maskers. Or she could have reported the offending customer to a store manager, though doing so would have simply forced an employee to take on the risk of confrontation and contagion. We’ve reported that retail workers already have it hard enough during the pandemic.

Luckily, experts do have advice for how to encourage a stranger to mask up without provoking them into even more dangerous behavior, which wellness reporter Allyson Chiu shared in an article today.

The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s possible the maskless person is a narcissist — someone who lacks empathy and believes themselves exempt from rules. That may sound like a snap judgment, but Chiu reports that peer-reviewed studies in the United States, Brazil and Poland all suggest that people prone to narcissism are less likely to follow social distancing guidelines or wear masks.

This does not mean everyone without a mask in the grocery store has a personality disorder, but it may be safest for you to assume they do, because another common trait of narcissists is being prone to anger. A simple eye roll directed at a maskless narcissist “will be enough to spin them into a rage,” a clinical psychologist at California State University at Los Angeles told Chiu.

So you should avoid even semi-confrontational comments such as “You’re supposed to wear a mask in here,” behavioral experts told Chiu. One suggested speaking to the person like a “hostage negotiator:” kindly, softly and appealing to their own self-interest as much as yours.

A Harvard Medical School psychologist suggests trying the line: “You can make the difference between life and death because we’re all in this together.” Using the word “we” emphasizes interconnection and might appeal to a narcissist’s sense of grandiosity. A small bribe might work, too: some experts recommend carrying an extra factory-sealed mask with you and offering it to the person you’re trying to convince.

At all costs, avoid letting the conversation become an argument. If it’s clear that the person isn’t listening to you or is stirring to anger, you should disengage. Simply stop responding to them, and walk away if you have to. You tried your best to make the situation safer for everyone around you. You can at least make it safer for yourself by leaving.

I tend to think most of us would prefer to avoid any confrontation on this issue, but if you decide to try the suggested approach, let us know how it went!

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Image by digital designer from Pixabay

You, the Virus, and the Mask

I am not a young chickadee. In fact, I have probably spent more days on this planet than many of my regular readers. Yes, even some of you “oldies.” I only tell you this because I want you to know that I am one of those who could very well fall ill to the coronavirus known as COVID-19. Fortunately, I’m healthy and have no underlying conditions that would make me especially susceptible, but nevertheless, I do fall into the “potential” range.

This is why it frustrates and angers me when I read complaints related to the suggested restrictions (e.g., social distancing, shelter-in-place) for preventing the spread of this virus. I’m not as worried about me as I am for people (like my other-half) who DO suffer from various ailments and would most surely die if they contract the virus.

There’s no denying that we humans want to do what we want to do … when and how we want to do it. It’s part of our nature to resist outside encroachment in our lives. (The actions of any two-year-old clearly demonstrate this.) However, most of us have recognized that laws and restrictions are put into place for our benefit so we tend to accept and follow them. Admittedly, not always — but as a general rule.

As related to the current situation, when severe illness and even death could be as close as another person’s cough or sneeze, some have adamantly declared that THEY don’t need to wear no stinkin’ mask! They’re young! They’re healthy! They’re special!

However, what many fail to overlook (or ignore) is this virus could be in your system, even though you haven’t experienced any symptoms. This means whenever you are in a public area and you cough or sneeze … or even speak since spittle can hang in the air … you are potentially spreading the virus. And when you happen to encounter a person who, for various health reasons, is unable to wear a mask, you have just exposed them to the virus. Yet you walk away with nary a twinge of guilt because this person is a stranger that you will most likely never see again.

Sometime back I wrote a post related to EVERYONE wearing a mask — and while several pointed out the negatives and inconveniences associated with such an action — I still contend it’s an effective way to keep this virus from spreading out of control. People could go shopping, get their hair cut, go to gyms, attend public events, etc. so long as everyone wore a mask.

Yes! Masks are a pain. They are unpleasant to wear. They are a nuisance to put on and take off. They hide your beautiful face. But they can also be life-savers.

Unfortunately, due to our Independent Spirit (and our resistance to being our “brother’s keeper”), the statistics will most likely continue to rise until SCIENCE eventually comes to our rescue with a vaccine.

Until then, hopefully, the COVID-19 death count won’t touch you … or someone close to you.

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Image by nina108 from Pixabay