Who is that (un)masked man?

My OH has received mask advice from her school’s head teacher. Wear or don’t wear, is the advice. Up to you. “Whatever makes you feel safe.”

Well. There’s your trouble. Right there, in a nutshell, the muddled thinking that persists about masks, well into (check notes) the 18th year of the pandemic.

The displays of toxic individualism you see (where people who have no medical reason not to wear masks flat refuse to put them on) are driven by a perception that wearing a mask makes them look weak and vulnerable. Because, in their muddled minds, wearing a mask is the equivalent of clutching at pearls, or putting on a long-sleeved shirt in November, or wearing ear protectors when you’re using a pneumatic drill.

Supply your own analogy. The point is that too many people still conceptualise mask-wearing as a self-protective measure. Which it only is if you consider society as a whole and the idea that stopping the spread is good for everyone, including the mask wearer.

I have every sympathy with head teachers, who have been dealing with ever-changing guidance and advice from the government since March, and are having to adjust their policies almost daily, even as the start of term lumbers towards us over the bank holiday weekend. Every head teacher will also have a coterie of staff who don’t read emails, skip meetings, or don’t stop talking long enough to listen to anybody else*, so every evolution in policy stores up confusion for when the real work begins.

But for a Head to use that phrase, whatever makes you feel safe is so unhelpful, it gives me the rage. So: imagine it makes me feel safe to wear a mask, and I step into the staff room wearing mine, but nobody else is wearing one. Do I feel safe now?

Personally, I don’t feel the need to wear a mask to feel safe, but then I understand that that’s not why I’m being asked to wear one.

I do miss those 70s Public Information Films. Don’t Dazzle, Dip: remember that one? Clunk Click, Every Trip. Always Use the Green Cross Code. Careless Talk Costs Lives. Dig For Victory. Don’t Read the Comments. Wear a Fucking Mask Because It’s Not About You.

*Yes, I have specific colleagues in mind.


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