You can shut up about masks now

14th October 2020 by Guest Blogger Ruth

Okay, I admit it. That’s a deliberately provocative title. I’m saying this as someone who is very pro-mask-wearing. But… well. Let me explain what I mean.

“I was in the supermarket the other day and I saw three, THREE! people not wearing masks. They can’t ALL have been exempt! And NONE of the staff were wearing masks! And one person had the mask over his mouth but not his nose!”

The comment section of every local paper’s Facebook group. Local groups on Facebook. Individual tweets or updates or blog posts or what have you.

These comments are usually followed by replies along the lines of “stop being such a Karen!”, “How do you KNOW they weren’t exempt?” or even “something something Bill Gates something something Scamdemic!”

Now, back before masks were (largely) mandated, I too made a huge fuss about masks. Not one, not two, but THREE blog posts about them:

Vaccine hope!

How do you solve a problem like mask-wearing? How do you get more people to wear masks?

Thank you, mask-wearers -I see you

Three blog posts – in case anyone thinks I’m undermining the importance of masks. I wrote these posts in advance of the government finally doing what it always does; far too little, far too late, by mandating masks in most (but definitely not all) public spaces. Most people who are not exempt now wear a mask in shops, libraries, hospitals and so on – albeit many do so reluctantly and imperfectly. Meanwhile many who are legally exempt from wearing a mask feel themselves able to wear one, and so do.

I appreciate that if you are still in the position where you rarely leave the house – perhaps because you are clinically vulnerable or living with people who are – it must be terrifying to go into an indoor space (or even close contact with someone outdoors), only to be met with the sight of a great many other people not wearing masks. On a personal level this must be both scary and anger-inducing.

But on a public health level?

It’s not the handful of divvies not wearing masks in shops (before anyone starts on me, I am not including people who cannot wear a mask; I mean those who can, but don’t) who are driving this pandemic, and to buy into that rhetoric is a mistake.

If we focus our attention on a handful of individuals not abiding by the rules (whether it’s masks, or teenagers breaking the ‘rule of six’ in the park, or someone leaving their pre-schooler with their mum so they can go to the shop, or whatever) as if it were a massive public health issue rather than a personal issue, it comes across as somewhat self-absorbed, and it also falls into the UK Government’s hands. Because they want us to blame each other, not them.

To reiterate, I do understand the terror on a personal level of being far too close to someone who is speaking or even shouting but not wearing a mask, despite the fact they could; people who do so are selfish or misguided, at best, and can understand this triggers personal anger for those who encounter them. My issue is with the claim that it’s mask-avoiding divvies that are spinning out the pandemic. It isn’t.

There is an elephant in the room, and it irks me

Here’s why when you talk about one or two people not wearing masks it irks me. BECAUSE EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO WEAR A MASK IN THEIR CLASSROOM. And I’m not talking about primary school kids here, who (especially at a younger end) might struggle. I’m talking high school kids. Teenagers.

Like my eldest child. Thirteen, and he IS NOT ALLOWED to wear a mask in his lessons. If he does, he will be asked to remove it. If he refuses (which he won’t, because he would be absolutely mortified at being challenged, because, well, teens and peer pressure and so on), he will be disciplined. And he is far, far from alone. This scenario is going on in high schools up and down the country.

So, when you complain about one person standing that bit too close in the Asda, not wearing a mask, when Clinically Extremely Vulnerable parents all over the country are having to hold their breath while they hug their children (who aren’t allowed to keep themselves and others safe in school)— do you know how that sounds?

When you talk at length about how ‘those selfish idiots who think the mask goes under your nose’ are ‘the reason why this pandemic is dragging on’, when every single day in the vast majority of high schools all over the country teenagers are told to remove their masks when they walk into a classroom full of thirty other teens — do you know how that sounds?

If you give succour to the idea that people taking masks off without sanitising their hands is what’s driving this pandemic whilst parents are being FORCED to choose between sending their diabetic, asthmatic and otherwise clinically vulnerable and previously shielding CHILDREN into school, or withdraw them all together and home educate them and lose their school place with all the support that entailed (especially for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilies) – do you know how that sounds?

When you tell others that it’s the handful of divvies breaking the rules rather than the government assertion that schools will not shut under any circumstances even in the most severe form of local lockdown, instead of complaining about the thousands upon thousands of teachers who have to stand in front of thirty teens every single day with no PPE: when you do this, do you know how that sounds?

If you complain that supermarket staff aren’t challenging non-mask-wearers when teachers are being forced to challenge kids FOR wearing masks, and yet you say NOTHING about the latter, just accept it as a given – do you know how that sounds?

When you moan about individuals breaking the rules rather than the government throwing children/teens, teachers, TAs, Learning Support Assistants (many of whom sit in amongst the kids, not even in front of the class), Mid Day Supervisors and all the essential staff it takes to run a school to the wolves — not to mention parents and guardians — do you know how that sounds?

And if you talk about a handful of plant pots acting selfishly rather than the government giving contracts to its utterly incompetent friends and thereby endangering us all, not to mention ‘the economy’ (which you’d think they might at least have a passing care for, but no), do you know how that sounds?

Divvies will be divvies

In case I haven’t made it clear enough: this is not about people who have had a scary experience with someone who didn’t wear a mask taking the time to write about that experience on social media. (I’ve had my own scary experience with someone who had a go at me in front of my spouse and youngest child for wearing a mask outdoors.) It’s about people who act as if, were those divvies to mask-up instead, the pandemic would come to a close.

Divvies are divvies. Selfish people gonna selfish. There’s not an awful lot that can be done about them, unfortunately. Now masks are mandated though, the majority who can wear them, do. Except in the places they are not only not mandated but (I can’t make this any clearer, can I?) NOT ALLOWED.

If you want to talk about masks, talk about THAT first. We’ll deal with the divvies later. If you want to talk about selfishness, talk about the government first. We’ll deal with individuals later.

Outdoors, but not in school

I’ve just read the list of recommendations doctors have made to bring the pandemic under control. They include ‘wearing face masks outdoors’. Okay, I’m all for that (I have stopped wearing mine outdoors quite so much lately in all honesty after being challenged over it not once but twice, both times in front of my youngest child, a three-year-old, so I would welcome this as it would make it harder for people to challenge me. Yes, that’s right, challenged FOR wearing a mask). But … NOT A SINGLE WORD ABOUT SCHOOLS. Not one.

Face masks in offices. Again, tick. Definitely. BUT WHAT ABOUT SCHOOLS? Do these people just not give a toss about kids and their parents and other adults around them? We KNOW children spread this virus, especially older children. For goodness’ sake, as if wearing masks outdoors will save more lives than making schools safer.

I read so much stuff about students being forced to isolate and access teaching online. But nothing — nothing at all — about high school children, who are just a few years younger than these students, who aren’t allowed to isolate when there’s an outbreak in their school unless they’ve been in close contact with the infected kids; whose parents are threatened with fines and court if they keep them off (even if those parents are clinically extremely vulnerable) and (as the blog post above is all about) are not even allowed to wear a mask in class.

Mandate masks outdoors all you like, but it won’t do a thing to help those of us with kids in school, which is an awful lot of us. An AWFUL lot.

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