A friend of mine shared an interesting news article out of Utah. It was about a consignment shop called Home Again, trying to enforce a new face mask policy. A sign outside of the store notified customers that they are required to don face masks before entering the establishment. A man named Mark walked in without a mask. He was asked to either put on a mask or leave. He chose to leave, and was quite pissed off about it. He told the proprietor of the business, Emily Moore, that she’d lost a customer.
My friend wondered why this is a “thing”. She thinks that people should cooperate and that will help things be more “normal.” And I agree, cooperation is probably the best way to unlock the economy. We’ll be allowed to “do more” if people follow policies set in place by our leaders.
On the article itself, I noticed the usual litany of responses from the irritated. A lot of people said Mark was arrogant and entitled. A few reminded everyone that a private business has the right to set any policies they wish. Quite a few others reminded everyone of the age old mantra, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” adding the words “no mask.” One or two others parroted the new, highly irritating slogan, “Mask it or Casket”, which is a take on the “Click it or ticket” slogan used to promote seatbelt use. Of course, it’s always been unsafe to ride in a car without a seatbelt. Being out and about without a face mask is a new “no no”. Nowadays, most everyone wears seatbelts and there are many laws requiring them. I think a lot of people worry that the face masks will soon be legally required as well, but they aren’t quite at the same level as a seatbelt. Or, at least they haven’t yet been scientifically proven to be at this writing.
Personally, as the daughter of former small business owners, I completely agree that Ms. Moore has every right to set policies for her business. Right now, it seems that many people think wearing a face mask is the prudent thing to do. I’ve read many responses from people who say that they won’t patronize businesses that don’t require customers and staff to wear face masks. Many people continue to explain their theories of how the mask works, reminding everyone that they protect others from you rather than you from them. They say it’s the “polite” and “respectful” thing to do. And, as my friend Weird Wilbur says, “That’s very fine.”
As someone with stated authority issues, as well as an advanced degree in public health, I have repeatedly opined that I don’t think most face masks are much more than a placebo, except in places where social distancing is completely impossible. They make people feel better about being in close proximity to other people. Don’t get me wrong– there is value in that. People are really on edge, psychologically, and it’s a good thing to reassure them that they don’t have to be terrified of going out into the world.
However, there are a lot of issues with the masks that I don’t think are being adequately addressed. They can be made of any material by anyone who wants to make them. They must be properly and regularly laundered. People wearing them still need to frequently wash their hands— and that is actually one of the most important things to do, but no one polices hand washing or face touching. Many people aren’t wearing the masks properly. They touch them repeatedly, take them on and off, scratch their faces and rub their eyes, or wear them under their noses. Or the masks give them a false sense of security and they don’t stay properly distanced from people. Also, we’re dealing with viruses, which are extremely tiny. Even surgical masks have it stated on their labels that they don’t stop COVID-19. They may limit balls of saliva and mucous from entering the air, but they don’t stop aerosols or vapors. And again… there’s that frequent hand washing thing that is so much more important, anyway.
Despite my personal reservations about the efficacy of face masks and my fervent hope that they don’t actually become something we’re all expected to wear forever, I do understand why they’re currently being touted and required. I can see why business owners like Ms. Moore want their customers to wear them. I also support her decision, because it’s her business, and it’s her right to run it as she sees fit within the confines of the law. But I also support other people’s rights to vote with their wallets and not shop at places with policies they don’t support, regardless of how stupid their reasons may seem to other people.
For many folks, seeing the mask on someone’s face is comforting. They believe the masks will stop, or at least hinder, the spread of viruses. For others, it has the opposite effect. Some people are creeped out by the sight of masks because they can’t see people’s whole faces. Some don’t like the way the mask feels or, perhaps more importantly, how wearing it makes them feel. Some people are legitimately inconvenienced or even incapacitated by the masks. Some feel that wearing a mask is an infringement of their rights. I don’t agree that requiring a mask is an infringement of anyone’s rights, per se, but I do think people have the right to their opinions. Those who don’t agree with wearing masks have their reasons for feeling the way they do, and no one should shame them for voting with their feet… or their wallets.
It’s been interesting for me to watch the arguments from afar. I am fortunate enough to live in a place where the pandemic, for now, seems to be under control. Things are loosening up in Germany. In fact, there was even a concert at the State Theater in Wiesbaden the other day. Granted, only 200 seats in a theater that can hold 1000 people were used, and people had to wear masks into and out of the theater. They were allowed to take them off once they were seated, and people from the same households were allowed to sit together. But it was still a concert involving a maskless singer, which is a big step.
As it is when people go out to eat in Germany right now, concertgoers had to leave their contact information. That way, if someone gets sick, everyone at risk can be contacted. After a few weeks, the information will be discarded, owing to Germany’s strict privacy laws. Germans, to me, seem to be a lot more community minded than Americans are. People seem to work together for the common good, and so far, it seems like that spirit is helping them win the war against the coronavirus, at least at this point in time.
In the United States, however, it seems like chaos has reigned for weeks. People are extremely polarized and stressed out, as the new mask requirements clash with our American sense of the importance of individual liberties. I’ve noticed it a lot in the comment sections on articles about COVID-19. Someone dares to state an opinion that goes against whatever the group thinks is correct, and they get the same tired lectures. And I’m not just talking about the pro-mask wearing people. It happens on the other side of the argument, too. Sometimes, the discussions become downright uncivilized, with either side vigorously defending its position and even insulting others for having a different viewpoint.
So, as I read that article this morning, I wasn’t too surprised that it got about 300 comments. And as the story came from Utah, it seemed like people were split down the middle as to what the right approach is toward the mask policy. Some people seemed to fault the idea that Mark, the maskless man who prompted the news story, has the right not to shop at Home Again because he disagrees with their mask policy. They seemed to think he should just give up his opinions, get with the program, and “sign on for the ‘big win'”. Other people commented that they, too, would be avoiding businesses that require the mask, because they resent being told what to do, especially from a business owner who expects them to spend their hard earned money.
Personally, I don’t think the “No shirt, no shoes, no service” mantra quite works in this instance. Shirts and shoes have been required forever. The masks are a very new requirement. It takes time for people to change their views, and when it’s about something that covers faces, hinders communication and socialization, is uncomfortable and potentially dangerous (for some people) to wear, and may be of dubious value, it’s harder to sell that idea to everyone. I don’t like wearing shoes myself, but it’s definitely not safe or comfortable to walk around without them. Wearing a shirt, particularly in cold weather, is kind of a no brainer. Most people will happily comply with the shirts and shoes rules because it’s safer and more comfortable for them anyway. Not wearing a mask, though, has only been a risky endeavor for a couple of months, and masks aren’t very comfortable.
Many people hate wearing the masks. I suspect when the weather gets warmer, we’ll see a lot more rebellion against them. I noticed a popular Biergarten in Tübingen advertising their reopening, along with the mask requirements (wear them in and out, while in line, or while using the restroom). At least one person wrote that she would not come until the masks were no longer required. I’m with her, to be honest. It’s not fun to wear a mask at a Biergarten. People are going to be drinking, which means that some people will probably forget to put them on. That could lead to unpleasant altercations with staff, other patrons, or even the Polizei. No thanks. I can drink beer at home and listen to my own music. It costs less, and I don’t have to worry about finding a place to sit. I can also socialize with someone I love and hang out with my dog.
Anyway… I swore to myself that I’d quit reading so much about the masks and reading comments from the angry and unhinged among us. But it’s like watching a train wreck. People in the United States are making a huge deal about the masks… much more so than people in Germany are. Personally, I continue to stay home, much to Bill’s chagrin. He wants to go out again. But if we stay home, I don’t have to wear a mask, put on clothes, watch people not wearing masks properly, or listen to sanctimonious drivel from people who want to tell others what to do, on EITHER side of the issue. That, to me, is a better deal.