When the Pandemic is Over, Can We Integrate Masks in Our Culture?
One day, the pandemic will end. A vaccine is going to emerge, and we’re going to line up for it. And then we’ll finally feel like we’re living healthy lives again.
However, we’re living in times of significant social change. The normal we know isn’t coming back any time soon. Hopefully, we’ll emerge into times of equality and environmental awareness.
If there’s one change I want to see, it’s more masks integrated into our culture. We don’t have to change our culture from individualistic to collective. But it would be nice to see more people willing to help one another.
Masks can benefit an individualistic culture, too
One of the reasons there is so much resistance to masks in America is their image. Experts presented them as a form of public safety. People look at it and think, “Compliance.” Others see it as a social fad. Doing our part to protect our communities isn’t selling in a lot of places.
Japan is a more collective culture, but they wore masks since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Years of donning surgical masks for influenza, pollution, and infernos turned masks into a symbol of part of the community. Now, they’re a part of modern-day fashion.
With the US being more individualistic, selling them as taking part in the community isn’t going to help people get motivated to wear a mask. We’re conditioned to believe following the crowd, whatever the reason is bad. Yet we do it a lot.
So what would be the best way to motivate more people to wear a mask in the West? The mask-wearer can benefit from wearing a mask in public and not losing their individuality.
The concept of wearing a mask is different for people, and a lot of them hate it. It’s different and unconventional, and that’s why they don’t like it. But if they keep seeing the benefits, they could change their minds over time.
You can save your sick days
Have you ever had a day where you know you don’t feel your best, but you’re not sure if you should go to work? You’ve got a small cough, you have a stuffy nose, but you don’t need to blow your nose. You’re not running a fever, but your voice sounds like it’s fading.
Is it a cold, or is it allergies? Do you want to waste a day off for something small, or would you rather risk it?
If you choose to put on a mask, you can still work and not worry about losing a day’s pay if it ended up being allergies. You can also protect customers and co-workers from getting sick if it’s the beginning of a cold. It’ll also allow your boss to plan if your cold ends up being a flu.
When I worked at Bob Evans, I got a nasty cold that kept me out of work for a whole weekend. Even though it’s the policy to stay out of work if you’re sick, I got yelled at and accused of being lazy. I nearly lost my job that weekend.
According to The Pew Research Center, the US and South Korea are the only developed countries where workers aren’t guaranteed sick leave. There are only twelve states and DC who require companies to give paid sick leave in the US. Next year, Maine will start giving paid sick leave, too.
Like retail and the restaurant industry, lower-income jobs are less likely to have paid sick leave than management and teaching. Even when workers have paid sick leave, there is an attitude that if you take a day off, you’re unreliable. You’re replaceable, so you need to prove your worth.
Unfortunately, it’s going to take a long time to change that mindset, even if we end up with more progressive leaders in local and national governments. But a mask can help ease the worries of workers with no sick leave.
In my experience, a lot of entry-level jobs needed doctor’s notes after you called in sick. Even when I went to China to work for Disney English, my bosses still asked for doctor’s notes before they honored sick days. One of my bosses would take away a vacation day if you couldn’t provide the letter proving you were ill.
I don’t know if a mask would get rid of the need for a doctor’s note. But maybe it could lessen the need for one. We won’t know unless it happens.
Waiting rooms in medical offices won’t feel so gross
When I was a kid, I would get sick unusually often. I have a memory of my mom taking me to a clinic’s office. After sitting in the waiting room for what felt like an hour, my mom took me out. Later that night, I heard her complaining to another relative that every person in the waiting room was coughing, sneezing, and blowing their nose.
Living in China was a different experience. It didn’t matter if I was going in for a checkup, or because I was sick. Once I walked into the building, the nurses gave me a mask. I needed to keep the cover on until I left the doctor’s office.
If masks were more of a thing in the West, we wouldn’t have to worry about sickness during the cold and flu season. I feel like my mom would’ve been more comfortable sitting in a waiting room full of masked people.
In April, during lockdown season, New York saw a 50% drop in emergency room visits. People were scared of COVID-19. The trend concerned doctors.
If hospitals and doctor’s offices provided masks when a new person walked in their building people would be more likely to visit if they have an emergency. We can still have the care we need without the worry of getting sick.
All we have to do is ask, and we can have a mask. In January of 2019, Scripps wrote an article about avoiding germs in the waiting room. A lot of medical centers were already giving face masks to people who asked before the pandemic.
Imagine how many fears could disappear if a receptionist gave patients masks when they walked in the doctor’s office. Asking for one is nothing new, even in the US. If giving them out was automatic, people wouldn’t be afraid to come in if they had a heart attack.
Schools could more easily control cold and flu outbreaks
Anyone who’s lived or worked with kids knows they’re disgusting creatures. If you live with a kid, you know you’re getting whatever they bring back from the classroom. It’s why sending kids back to school is a massive debate as of this article.
Every school district is different in how they handle cold and flu outbreaks. But if there is a significant number of kids home sick from the flu, schools will cancel classes. Integrating masks during the year can help reduce the number of kids with the cold or the flu.
Even if schools ask parents to bring in a mask, it’s still better than nothing. It can give schools an idea of when they’ll start seeing more colds from kids and predict how many cases they could have in the district.
If most kids come in a mask, they can significantly reduce absences for colds and flu season. It won’t stop the spread of colds and flu, but it will slow it down.
If parents took the time to teach them how to wear a mask properly and got a flu shot, we could see a significant decrease in kids getting the flu. Teachers already get flu shots and suggest kids get the vaccine, too. Why not add masks as an extra layer of protection?
We know masks aren’t foolproof
According to the FDA, surgical masks protect others from large, wet droplets that make people sick. We know small particles can still get into someone’s system and get them sick.
But doing nothing isn’t the answer anymore. The one thing colds, flu, and COVID all have in common is how contagious they are. Studies are showing wearing a mask can significantly reduce your chances of getting sick.
But a mask only works if you know how to wear them and know when to change them properly.
It’s going to take time to integrate masks into our culture. I’m not sure if we’d see them more after the pandemic is over or not. But we can still make them a part of our culture without taking away our culture’s individuality.
I believe one of the more obvious reasons against masks is that it’s different. As I mentioned in a previous article, people don’t like what’s different. They will immediately shut it down before giving it a chance. Keep showing the benefits anyway, and be patient.