Advice From the Trenches

Mask Shaming: Some people have valid excuses not to mask up, don’t they?

Dear C and Dr. B;

This happened to someone in my family, so I think this is something the mask shamers need to know. Hey, remember that woman you shamed in the grocery store today because she wasn’t wearing a mask? That was my sister. She already feels enough shame because she was raped. Having something over her nose and mouth triggers her PTSD and causes her to relive that trauma. She cried for an hour after she came home. And that man at the Quickie Mart who you called selfish? He’s a volunteer firefighter and just came from the ER after being treated for smoke inhalation. He needs to breathe. Non-compliance isn’t alway a simple black or white issue.

That little boy you lectured about removing his mask is autistic. He doesn’t understand. He simply wants it off of his face. That little girl who screams when somebody tries to mask her could be from an abusive home where she was locked in a closet. How would you know?

There are all sorts of reasons for not wearing a mask. Not all are lung or immune system related. How many of you are shaming, name calling and berating complete strangers? There may be a sensitive personal reason why they cannot wear one. If someone is NOT wearing a mask, mind your own business.

Mad at the Maskers

B says: We had this very conversation at work today. A client with anxiety wanted a medical note to be excused from wearing a mask. I refused, as there is no valid excuse not to. None of us, no matter what our emotional state or situation, lives in a world where our actions do NOT affect others. In the case of a rising pandemic, it would be unethical to write that note. Sometimes an individual’s personal story just doesn’t matter. What if this were an Ebola pandemic? 

Should those with personal reasons also be excused from wearing seatbelts, or smoking in public, or driving 95 miles an hour under the influence? The mask is the same thing.

C says: I understand what you are saying, Mad – it is really traumatic for some people to follow these mandates, so we should try to be more understanding. Here’s the problem with your reasoning: The threat that lives inside of these people’s heads is real only to them. The virus is real to everybody, and can be spread by anybody, whether they are traumatized or not. The virus has no consideration whatsoever for individuals.

On April 15, 2020, there were only 2 million cases in the entire world. As of July 24, 2020, there are over four million known coronavirus cases in the US alone. Over the past two weeks, case counts have risen in 37 states – and the reason is that people are putting their “individual rights” over that of public health. Our economy is stalled, people are out of jobs, kids can’t go to school, parents are exhausted, and we could be facing an even worse crisis in November and December. This is the wrong time to make it all about you. 

I will say the same thing to those who refuse to wear masks that I would say to someone who smokes: What you do to your own body is your business. But when what you do is damaging others, we aren’t talking about your personal rights anymore. We are talking about public endangerment. If the danger is great enough, there are laws against your “rights.” This is one of those times, kiddo. It’s not your decision. This virus is traumatizing millions of people all over the globe. Your sister is going to have to deal with her personal trauma in a different way.

If people can’t comply with our current safety mandates, they should stay inside. It’s for everyone’s protection. And btw – that firefighter who needs to breathe should do it away from other people. He’s especially vulnerable to infection if his lungs are damaged. PLEASE people – read something about the science behind what is going on. Educate yourselves. It’s important.

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