Yesterday, I read an article on The Atlantic entitled “Are Outdoor Mask Mandates Still Necessary?” Written by Derek Thompson, this piece was exactly what it sounds like… an article about whether or not people should be forced to wear face masks when they are outside. Here in Germany, we aren’t obligated to wear a mask outdoors if we can “socially distance”. I have noticed that despite the rather anal retentive and uptight rule following stereotype that seems to dog the German people, folks here are not too jazzed about wearing masks 24/7. I never see people wearing them when I’m walking my dogs through the neighborhood, although people do wear them at bus stops because it’s required.
Thompson included statements from respected public health experts from around the world, explaining why the zero tolerance/100% enforcement attitude could backfire in getting people to comply with the rules. Thompson wrote:
Requiring that people always wear masks when they leave home, and especially in places with low levels of viral transmission, is overkill. As mentioned, the coronavirus disperses outside, posing little risk to people who are walking alone or even swiftly passing by strangers. In fact, almost all of the documented cases of outdoor transmission have involved long conversations, or face-to-face yelling. The risk calculation changes if you’re standing in a crowd: Some uneven evidence suggests that the Black Lives Matter protests last summer increased local infections. But that’s an easy carve-out. States can end blanket mandates and still recommend outdoor masking by anyone experiencing symptoms, or in crowds. (Extended conversations pose their own risk, but when people are vaccinated, the odds of viral transmission are probably somewhere between microscopic and nonexistent.)
Outdoor mask mandates might also turn people off from obeying better rules. “Given the very low risk of transmission outdoors, I think outdoor mask use, from a public-health perspective, seems arbitrary,” Muge Cevik, an infectious-disease and virology expert at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, told The Washington Post. “I think it affects the public’s trust and willingness to engage in much higher-yield interventions. We want people to be much more vigilant in indoor spaces.”
Makes sense to me. If I’m alone in the woods or swiftly passing someone on my walking route, I don’t think wearing a mask is as important as it would be if I was in a huge crowd of people who are shouting. Also, there are quite a lot of people who just plain resent being “nannied” and “nagged” by others. If we let people exercise their free will in less risky areas, they may be more willing to cooperate when they’re indoors. And yes, to me, it makes more sense to wear a mask when indoors with strangers than it does out on the street, when you can be far enough away from people not to risk sharing germs.
Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, spoke with several male mask skeptics last year for a piece in The Atlantic. When she explained that masking wasn’t as important outdoors, the men became more amenable to wearing them indoors. By connecting rules to reasons, she got them to see the value of covering their nose and mouth when it actually mattered. Last week, Marcus told me that she’s baffled by the notion that the best way to get people to wear masks inside is to mandate that everybody wear one when they’re alone outside. “We don’t recommend condom use when people are enjoying themselves alone to get them to wear condoms with their sexual partners,” she said.
The argument that outdoor mask mandates create a warm and fuzzy feeling of social solidarity confuses a personal definition of etiquette (“I think my mask makes everybody feel safe”) with a public defense of population-wide laws (“everybody should wear a mask everywhere, because it’s the only way to make everybody feel safe”). Masks send all sorts of messages to all sorts of different people. To some, they’re beacons of safety; to others, they’re signs of imperious government overreach. As Marcus argued, mandating a public-health tool that’s not needed can drive away people who might otherwise be on board with more important interventions. “I think there’s a proportion of the population that believes restrictions will last indefinitely,” Marcus said, “and they are probably one of the hardest groups to keep engaged in public-health efforts.”
And I also liked that Thompson considered that not everyone has the same reality. A lot of people– myself included– are lucky enough to have backyards or balconies. But many more people are not so fortunate. In our previous house, we lived next to a large naturepark. But we didn’t have balconies or a yard with a functional fence, where we could let the dogs out free. The fence at our last house was more of a decoration, and would not have allowed us to safely sit outside with the dogs untethered. I know a lot of other people in Germany simply live in flats with no private spaces at all. As Thompson says:
Finally, mandating outdoor masks and closing public areas makes a show of “taking the virus seriously” while doing nothing to reduce indoor spread, in a way that often hurts the less fortunate. To deal with its COVID-19 spike, for example, the Canadian province of Ontario instituted a stay-at-home order and closed many parks and playgrounds. “These policies are made by people who have yards,” Marcus said. “If you live in an apartment building and have no yard, and are required to wear masks at all times outdoors, you never get to be maskless outside. And then, where do people gather maskless to socialize? Inside their homes”—where the risk of transmission is higher.
I thought Thompson’s article was fair and balanced, and the information within it was reasonable. I especially appreciated the comments from Julia Marcus, who came right out and said that there are people (like me) who worry that the mask mandates will turn into an indefinite rule. Allowing for some easing of the rules outside gives people hope that we won’t have to tolerate these rules forever, and that will make it easier to keep being vigilant. A lot of us just PLAIN don’t want to live this way for the rest of our lives, and we resent other people insisting that this is the way it HAS to be from now on. The fact is, many people feel that this is NOT how it should be. We should be working hard on a solution that makes mask wearing obsolete for most people. Or, at least that’s my opinion… but it seems like more and more people, especially in the United States, feel like only one opinion is the correct one. Anyone who disagrees is automatically an “asshole.”
One thing I take comfort in, at least here in Germany, is that it’s pretty obvious to me that people here are not going to accept being forced to wear face masks forever. In fact, I have noticed that even rule loving Germans are starting to rebel. There have been more protests lately, especially as Angela Merkel has pressed for stricter lockdowns. People are really getting tired of the crisis and they’re becoming more apathetic and lax.
I know there are people in some countries that are forced to wear veils whenever they are outside, but the rest of the world isn’t the Islamic world, where those kinds of oppressive rules are okay. And Thompson then ends with this uplifting conclusion:
Hyper-neuroticism is a mitzvah during a pandemic. But we really don’t have to live like this forever, and it’s okay for more people to say so. We can learn to look at a well-populated beach and not see a gross failure of human morality. We can see somebody unmasked in a park and not think, I guess that one doesn’t believe in science. We can walk down an uncrowded street with a mask, or without a mask, or with a mask sort of hanging from our chin, and just not really worry about it. We can reduce unnecessary private anxiety and unhelpful public shame by thinking for a few seconds about how the coronavirus actually works and how to finally end the pandemic. Let’s tell people the truth and trust that they can take it. Let’s plan for the end of outdoor mask mandates.
BRAVO! And let that be the FIRST step in eventually ending ALL mask mandates, because COVID-19 will be under control, like most infectious diseases usually become after time passes and science advances. Or, at least that’s what I think we should be aiming for. That’s what makes the masks different from seatbelts, which I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of, at least in my lifetime.
I felt pretty good as I read Derek Thompson’s article. But as I finished reading about how there’s a weird dichotomy between hyper-neurotic mask police types and vehement anti-maskers, I had sinking feeling that there would be tons of comments left on the magazine’s Facebook page. Sure enough, I was right. So many people, clearly folks who didn’t bother to read, left comments regarding this article. And one person wrote that non-maskers are his personal form of an “asshole detector”. Behold:
At this point I think of them less as masks and more as asshole detectors. Even if the chances are small, it’s the very least you can do for your fellow man. How damned privileged is our society that this is a hot button issue? If it happens to save even a few extra lives, it’s worth it. Buck up buttercups.
Seriously, dude? I think YOU are an asshole for taking this attitude toward your fellow man, especially as you pat yourself on the back for being so “considerate” as you judge people you don’t even know. And I think people who comment on things they haven’t read are assholes, adding unnecessary and uninformed noise that everybody else has to wade through.
I live in southern Georgia and literally no one wears masks in stores, etc. All asshole behavior. I literally got into a verbal argument with a man that refused to stand on the 6 ft marker on floor in grocery store check out line. No mask. Even the clerk was like, “Sir, stand back!” It’s like the non-maskers get off on being a bully.
Why get in an argument with someone? Just get away from them. Arguing with a stranger is “asshole behavior” too, isn’t it?
There were more comments like that, along with the usual chorus of people writing things like “just wear the damn mask”, which I find pretty offensive, myself. I don’t think it helps compliance when you swear at people. In fact, people who swear at perfect strangers are probably assholes, right? I actually feel like telling them to go fuck themselves, but because I’m a lady, I don’t do that. 😉 Instead, I just think it to myself… and if I get angry enough, I vent about it in my blog.
I mean, I do wear a mask if I have to. But I go out of my way not to be in situations where I have to wear a mask, or deal with assholes who take it upon themselves to determine what perfect strangers are or are not doing as “asshole detectors”. Here’s one that made me laugh…
But it doesn’t matter. Wear the mask. It’s not an inconvenience in any way. It’s the least difficult thing that has ever been asked of us to do collectively. Articles like this only lend credence to selfish, broken people. Wear the mask until the pandemic is over. Simple. And until then, STFU.
Dude… to some people, it truly IS an inconvenience. You may not think it is, but they do– and they get an opinion and a vote, too! And telling someone to STFU, sorry, is also “asshole behavior”. You don’t get to tell people to STFU, simply because you claim to agree with the opinions of “experts” and you assume they don’t. There are all kinds of people out there who really are experts, and most of them have more balanced, fair, informed, and sensible opinions than yours. This lady had a sensible comment, in my opinion…
As a biologist, I can confirm that masking while outside was only suggested if you would be less than six feet from others (the transmission distance for errant coughs, sneezes or loud talking); it was never required by science to mask all the time outside. I carry or wear it and put up/on as I approach others on a path etc. ps I would warn against dining inside until one is vaccinated: the author’s point about the indoors being highest risk is valid.
And this guy also has reasonable thoughts, in my view…
I agree with this. The problem with outdoor mask mandates with fines for noncompliance is it becomes something law enforcement can selectively enforce. Look at what Miami was doing. They passed an ordinance that said everyone had to wear a mask at all times indoors or outdoors even when social distancing is possible. Miami police basically set up mask traps and stood outside supermarkets just waiting for people to come out of the store and take the mask off or wear it under their nose so they could ticket them. A woman was walking through an empty parking lot without a mask and was ticketed. Someone was in a barbershop and pulled his mask down for a few seconds to take a drink of water and a police officer happened to be walking by and that person was ticketed. I think a reasonable person would agree that this enforcement was overreach. I get the seriousness of the virus, but you have to give people a little breathing room. If a person is walking in an empty parking lot or on a back residential street and is not wearing a mask, but has a mask with them in case he or she comes to a situation where he or she can’t socially distance, then I don’t see the problem.
Sounds to me like Miami has found a great way to fill its coffers by oppressively fining people over mask wearing. Glad I don’t live there, especially as hot as it gets.
It baffles me that so many people have gone to such extremes on this issue. It should be perfectly okay to hate wearing a face mask. It should be okay to say it out loud, and hope for the mandates to end at some point. It should be alright to expect and fervently hope that we’ll get to a point at which this nightmare is either ended or mitigated. Otherwise, why go on living? I HATE living this way, and I don’t have it as bad as a whole lot of people do. Telling people that they don’t have the right to their feelings is toxic, and labeling them as “assholes” because you make assumptions about their character based on their masking habits is extremely limiting and offensive. Obviously, people who feel this way about other people are assholes themselves. Are there really people out there who think the whole world should be expected to accept living like this from now on? It blows my mind! As long as people are complying, what’s it to you, anyway?
I particularly love it when people compare mask wearing to wearing a seatbelt, or they compare going outside maskless with drunk or reckless driving. It’s absolute lunacy. I think, if seeing someone’s bare face outside in a sparsely populated area makes you compare them to drunk drivers or reckless people, you should simply do your best to avoid them. That’s what I do when I see someone on the road who drives erratically. I let them go ahead and get away from them. I don’t fan the flames by flipping them off or cursing at them through my window. Doing that in Germany can get you a pretty stiff fine, actually. It’s against the law to insult people or shoot the bird at them. Seems like doing one’s best to avoid problems is the better way to get through life. But… that’s just me.
Sigh… I really think Derek Thompson’s article is a good one. It gave me hope to read it. And, if people had taken the time to read it, they’d find that he consulted “experts” before he shared his thoughts. He’s quoted a Harvard educated epidemiologist, for Christ’s sakes, yet so many people feel the need to claim that Thompson is being “irresponsible” by giving people hope that things will get better! I would certainly listen to Julia Marcus of Harvard Medical School talking about COVID-19 and mask wearing than I would some jerk commenting on The Atlantic’s Facebook page.
Anyway… if you read all of this blog post and don’t think it’s an “asshole detector”, I thank you. I really think these hyper-vigilant, hyper-neurotic, nagging mask cheerleaders are how we wind up with right wing nutjobs like Marjorie Taylor Greene and straight up narcissistic creeps like Donald Trump in charge. There needs to be balance in all things… and that includes mask mandates. But maybe I’m just an asshole who needs to STFU. If you honestly think that about me, I hope you will take it as a cue to find someone else’s blog to read. 😉