7 Common Excuses People Use to Avoid Wearing Masks, and Why Science Says They’re Wrong

, Senior Climate Justice and Health Scientist | November 23, 2020, 2:37 pm EST
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This post is a part of a series on COVID-19 and the Coronavirus Pandemic

Worldwide, more than 1.4 million people have died, and more than 58 million people have been infected by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. In the United States, more than a quarter million people have died, and 12 million people and counting have been infected.

A ‘novel coronavirus’ is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. So, the virus causing COronaVIrus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, is not the same as the coronaviruses that we have experienced in the past, some of which have caused mild illnesses, like the common cold.

As has become painfully apparent, this coronavirus affects people in different ways, as symptoms differ, extent of illness and time to recovery differ, and susceptibility differ-–though there are some identified conditions and characteristics (like race or ethnicity) that make people more at risk of infection and of really severe responses to infection.

One fact that is certain is that wearing a mask helps to protect against the spread of infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a scientific brief on November 10, 2020, stating that the predominant mode of transmission of the virus is through “respiratory droplets” when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe, and it has recommended the use of masks. And for a more scientific discussion on masks, read this insightful blogpost from my colleague Taryn MacKinney.

In the absence of a federal mandate to wear masks (which is what we really need), 38 individual states have issued their own mandates to protect residents. For the rest of the states, mask wearing is optional. As COVID-19 infection rates and deaths rise again, higher than either the first or second wavedaily deaths exceed 1,500, schools close again (the CDC withdrew its school reopening document–which was a bad idea in the first place), and states are slowly instituting partial closures again (although, as Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed out, the nation needs a uniform approach, not a disjointed response to the pandemic), the immediate focus is once again on wearing masks. In addition to social distancing, wearing a mask is the easiest protective action people can take.

In my opinion, we should have been wearing masks from the first time we learned that the primary COVID-19 infection path was through the air. Some people elected early on to wear masks even before requirements were in place, a common-sense way of protecting themselves and others (thank you, thank you, thank you). HOWEVER, as my grandmother frequently said, “common sense is not that common.” There are those (sigh) who continue to obstinately refuse to wear masks (which by the way, I consider to also be a fashion opportunity).

This is why it is important—during a period when cold weather limits access to the outdoors and outside activity, when many people are planning indoor gatherings with family and friends (especially over Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and other holidays), and when people are just plain FED UP with COVID-19 restrictions—to really emphasize the need to wear a mask and to insist that, unless you have developed a ‘bubble’ with a group of people and you all are only EVER around each other and no one else, everyone else wears a mask too.

Part of the author’s mask collection

So why isn’t everybody masking up? Here are seven reasons, mostly based on misinformation about masks, that people often use to explain why they choose not to wear masks (trust me, there are more).

  1. What people say: I tested negative two weeks ago so I don’t have COVID-19 and I can hang out without a mask

First, congratulations on testing negative! That is awesome!

  • What science says: Symptoms of COVID-19 infection can take anywhere from two to 14 days to show after you were exposed.

There are two types of tests for COVID-19 – diagnostic tests and antibody tests. A diagnostic test helps determine if you have a current infection. An antibody test can indicate if you were previously infected. Chances are that you had a diagnostic test. Keep in mind, however, that a negative test, while great news, does not indicate your COVID-19 exposure since you took the test! You may have left the testing center and subsequently been exposed to someone who was COVID-19 positive (and maskless).

So now that we’ve cleared that up, thank you for wearing a mask because your incubation period or time of infection, if you are infected, is unknown.

  1. What people say: He/She is my cousin, brother, mother, sister… (you get the picture), so none of us have/will get COVID-19, even though we all haven’t been social distancing or wearing masks.

Sadly, COVID-19 does not care if you are related.

  • What science says: Just because somebody is your cousin, brother, mother, or sister doesn’t mean they are more or less susceptible to the virus—or that you should trust that they have been taking precautions against exposure. Also, do not overlook the importance of pre-existing conditions and other risk factors. Now, a recent study does suggest there may be some common genetic issues that predispose some people to more severe cases of COVID-19 than others, but taking a chance on how sick a person may get (including possible death) is obviously not comparable to nobody getting sick in the first place.

Listen, I love you, we are a close-knit family or close friends, but that does not mean we need to share everything, especially COVID-19. So, thank you for caring about family and friends and wearing a mask! 

  1. What people say: If only one of us wears a mask we will all be ok.
  • What science says: If just one person wears a mask, then that person just decreased their chances of infecting others and getting infected themselves. But what about the other maskless people in the room? Those people are putting others at risk while simultaneously failing to protect themselves.

My mask protects you and your mask protects me, so thank you for caring about others!

The author, Adrienne Hollis, wearing a mask to go biking. November, 2020

 

  1. What people say: If you get COVID-19 once, you can’t get it again.
  • What science says: Unlike chickenpox or measles, plenty of viruses are capable of infecting people more than once. How much protection a previous COVID-19 infection provides—and for how long—is unclear. Indeed, multiple COVID-19 reinfections have been reported, sometimes with more severe symptoms developing the second time around. This concept of infection/protection relates to the dangerous idea behind herd immunity through mass COVID-19 infection. My colleague Derrick Jackson wrote an excellent blog post about that! In addition, scientists have no idea how long any immunity would last before you are re-infected. It is not worth taking the chance of being re-infected (and possibly infecting others) by not wearing a mask.

As my Mom would say: “If somebody jumped off of a bridge, would you jump too?”  Nope! So, thank you for wearing a mask–and for not jumping! But if you do care what everyone else is doing, just make sure that everyone is wearing a mask. 

  1. What people say: I am not in a high-risk group so if I get COVID-19, it won’t be that bad.
  • What science says: It’s true that people in older age groups and those with underlying health conditions are more at risk for severe cases of COVID-19 and death, but fatalities and severe cases have occurred in all age groups, including among otherwise healthy individuals. Nobody is completely safe from a potentially serious response to a COVID-19 infection. Remember, wearing a mask protects other people from infection, including those most at risk! Even if you are in a lower-risk group, you may still be infected and possibly not have symptoms. If you aren’t wearing a mask and come into contact with a person in a high-risk group and they contract COVID-19 from you…wow.

I am so glad you care enough to wear a mask so that the people you are around are protected. 

  1. What people say: As long as I wear a mask on my face, but not on my nose, I am protected from COVID-19.
  • What science says: Masks must cover both your mouth and nose to work. Research shows that mask use is beneficial and helps keep droplets and mucus from your mouth or nose in your mask (and away from others), while also providing some protection from other people’s droplets when they expel them (coughing, sneezing, singing, talking…and more).

But in order for this to work, the mask must cover both your nose and mouth so that no liquid comes out or goes in. Thank you for wearing your mask properly!

  1. What people say: Kids can’t get COVID-19, so they don’t need to wear a mask.

Wear your mask. Protect the most innocent among us-– the children–-and help them protect us as well. By wearing your mask, you can help keep those who are too young to wear one safe. All the babies and children (and their caretakers, teachers and parents) thank you!

 At the end of the day, you must weigh the question of wearing a mask against saving lives–-including your own. The balance should ALWAYS tilt towards life. Humanity should win every time. When you choose to not wear a mask, you are essentially taking someone else’s life into your hands, playing Russian roulette with their lives. Is aesthetics or just proving some political point really worth the life of your family member, friend, neighbor or an unsuspecting fellow human being?

As my friend Vernice always says-–“do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?” I want us all to be effective and save lives. So please wear your mask, insist that everyone else does, and most of all, thank you for doing what you can to protect the lives of others (including my own–-my Mom has only one daughter, you know!). So, MASK UP PEOPLE!!!

UCS mask

7C0/CC BY 2.0
Adrienne Hollis

Posted in: Science Communication, Uncategorized Tags: ,

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  • Pat Maurer

    Are the “Because science” masks available for sale?

  • Leroy

    Where can one find the scientific data showing a statistically significant benefit effect of mask wearing?

    Why have you not made this apparent in the article?