I’m sure you’ve heard about The Great Mask Debate. Whether it’s on your Nextdoor feed or playing out in your grocery store, it seems like the discussion on whether to mask or not to mask is taking over every aspect of life.
Initially, government and health officials sent mixed messages on whether or not members of the general public should be wearing masks. Now, however, health officials are clear that wearing face coverings in public is essential to preserving health and safety during this pandemic.
The result of this mixed messaging, however, is serious confusion and debate on the efficacy of masks. This is a debate that often plays out in arguments with essential workers who are just trying to do their jobs.
In many states, the government now mandates that people wear masks in public, especially while patronizing businesses. In other states, masks are not yet mandated, but certain businesses have chosen to require them anyway.
Government officials and business owners made these choices to protect the population from the potentially devastating effects of COVID-19. The unintended consequences, however, are that essential workers are now on the forefront of The Great Mask Debate.
Essential Workers and Anti-Maskers
I don’t know if you have noticed, but certain segments of the population really don’t want to wear a mask. There are videos all over the internet of people shouting at cashiers and servers when employees ask them to don face coverings while ordering or inside of stores. These are not isolated incidents.
At least once a week, often far more, a customer throws a temper tantrum at the restaurant I work at when asked to put on a mask. In our county, there is now steep fines for businesses if they don’t enforce the mask ordinance. Employees have no choice but to ask customers to put masks on.
People, however, have not ceased shouting at us about The Great Mask Debate. Most of the time, the excuse is that masks don’t work. Folks often cite their friend who went to nursing school or their daughter’s husband, who is an epidemiologist. There is always some such excuse in an attempt to avoid masking up. Essential workers just have to manage the shouting. All we can do is calmly refuse service, and hope for the best when it comes to these customers. It’s something we don’t get paid enough to be expected to handle.
The Other Side
Others, however, have gone dramatically in the other direction. I have seen people call the police on folks not wearing masks on trails and on beaches. I have seen people scream at folks who are following mandates, outside and socially distanced, about how they are masked. People are scared and worried for the safety of themselves and their families, and that fear is causing some over the top reactions to other people’s choices.
This mask debate is bringing out the worst in the most stringent sides of American society. The overzealous maskers versus the anti-maskers is a perfect representation of the larger divisions our society faces. The lack of respect for science and professional opinion combined with a strident lack of understanding or empathy for the other side breeds discontent and chaos. It’s a disaster that our essential workers are left to manage.