I don’t like wearing a mask. It was fun when I was playing cowboy, a long time ago. I wore masks when my Uncle Sam was paying me : masks for gas, masks for smoke, masks for diving, masks for oxygen. Today I wear one when sanding and scraping boats, sometimes for pay, sometimes not. In the winter I wear one because there are things that I do like ski, sail, snowmobile, and skate that I like to do more than I dislike wearing a mask. Now I wear one in public under a roof. It’s a matter of respect.
With the coronavirus, wearing a mask, even a cloth one has been shown to help keep the virus from spreading. It’s something that anyone who has traveled to the Far East knows well. There people masks if they have a cold, a cough, or anything else that their fellow citizens could catch. And these mask wearing cultures like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China have effectively used them as one of their tools to control corona virus. It isn’t just a matter of protecting themselves; it is protecting others.
A month or more now since we were first requested to wear masks in public, and mask wearing where you cannot maintain social distancing became mandatory, mask wearing has become the subject of many stories and gigabytes of social media. Our state has made wearing mandatory with fines up to $1,000 and six months in jail as penalties, but has left it to the management of stores and other public gathering places to be enforced.
So lets see how this is working. For starters to be effective you need to let your patrons know, or remind them. Small businesses like my barber have asked maskless not to come in, at the cost of some of their old customers. Museums and libraries have a strict no mask no entrance policy. So do some medium sized businesses like Reny’s and Hamilton’s. Some may have a sign but, in order to avoid confrontation, while controlling numbers admitted carefully, admit maskless. They don’t have to. Some fuel and convenience stores like the ones run by Nouria seem to enforce mask wearing. Others not so much, in one case, kind of ironic as it is enforced visiting their main office.
Larger stores are variable. In a recent trip to Shaw’s Plaza in Rockland all stores except one had signage requesting mask wearing. In some cases it was pretty small but at Shaw’s it was a prominent 2’x 3’ sign with illustrations. There was no way that a customer could miss it, and walking past it, maskless, they knew they were wrong. Other stores bury the request in small type. Lines form at the big box stores with maybe 50% masked. Should these stores hire bouncers?
It’s really too bad. If we were a mask wearing culture, the state could do away with the restrictions on letting in our guests. Our hotel industry could be working with retail to control transmission. Right now the City of Rockland is thinking about enforcing mask wearing in public. It would behoove them to have a look at Bromage, “The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them”
Outdoor ephemeral exposures are low risk, like walking past someone on the street. Indoor gatherings are not. Indeed the biggest risk in stores is to the workers who have to be in the store all day. They may be masked but that mask barely protects them from an unmasked carrier. It takes both a mask on the carrier and on the potential victim to provide safety.
So why do I wear a mask when I go into a store? It isn’t to protect myself. Its a matter of respect, respect for other customers, and for the folks that are working hard to serve me.
People without masks may be making a statement about their personal freedom but what they are really doing is making a statement about caring for others. So I’ll dig out a bandana, my on-the-water neck gaiter, or even a nicely sewn mask that a friend made.
It’s not about me, it’s about you. And it isn’t that hard.
Ben Fuller lives in Cushing