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I don't wear a mask – here's why



Cat cycles to Central Park from Hell’s Kitchen, then spends about an hour running, does a little yoga in Sheep Meadow, before heading home. It’s her evening routine, a way of winding down at the end of the day. She doesn’t wear a mask. Nor does she practice social distancing.


“I have come to believe that not only is it ineffective, but it's actually not healthy to wear a mask,” she says. “It's sort of like putting up a chain link fence to keep out mosquitoes.”


She describes her actions as an act of civil disobedience, saying: “I don't believe in self-quarantining. I go out whenever I want.


“I haven't gotten much shaming, really,” she adds. “I'm surprised.”


"Some people have medical issues and can not and should not wear a mask," says Ruth (not this writer). "I lost my right lung due to 9/11 and now I’m extremely asthmatic. My pulmonologist told me not to wear a mask but I do wear it for a few minutes in the stores, never in the street."

Lisa’s family don't wear masks on their daily walk outdoors either. She says: “We keep far more than six feet from others but, in accordance with the law, put our masks up when we cannot keep that distance.


“Twice we have been berated for not wearing our masks. Both times, the person started yelling at greater than 10 feet away and went out of their way to come within three feet of us to unleash their vitriol.


"I don’t find anything chuckle-worthy about people shouting at me and my kids, creating a hazardous situation, but couched in our quiet, mask-less walk being the public safety risk."

“Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio both chuckled about outspoken New Yorkers,” she says, "and that they’ll remind you to wear your mask if you aren’t wearing one. But they forget that the New York way of ‘reminding’ someone is often very aggressive. I don’t find anything chuckle-worthy about people shouting at me and my kids, creating a hazardous situation, but couched in our quiet, mask-less walk being the public safety risk.”


She adds: “When New Yorkers ‘show they care’ by shouting, they are spraying larger globules than they would with a simple, calm ‘please wear your mask.’”


Photograph: United Nations COVID-19 Response

Public shaming has reached new levels during the pandemic, whether we’re judging each other for not wearing a mask, going sidewalk drinking, not taking part in the nightly 7pm applause, or for simply going outside – they’re calling it the quarantine walk of shame. Have fear, and a lack of reliable information, turned us against each other?


“People are wearing the mask as a necklace, an earring, a bracelet – anything and anyway than how it should be worn,” says Ilene. “Why? Because they are smoking, talking on the phone, or drinking coffee as they walk in the streets. People, can't you wait until you get home?”


Ian says: “I lower mine when the street is empty and I’m out walking my dog early in the morning. I raise it when I see someone coming. Common sense. Common courtesy.”


"It's understandable to yell at someone if they are waving a loaded weapon in your face, and right now our breath is that loaded weapon.”

Gregg agrees: “I have no problem with folks not wearing a mask outdoors if they do their best to stay at least six feet away from me and others. But the vast majority of the maskless don't even try. It's quite infuriating.


"Basically, if you're not wearing a mask, then you are putting the health of others at risk. It's understandable to yell at someone if they are waving a loaded weapon in your face, and right now our breath is that loaded weapon.”


“There are far too many people in this neighborhood that don't wear masks, especially young people,” says Andrew, “and they don't even bother trying to stay six-plus feet away. It seems like there are way too many people outside unnecessarily too. It's really upsetting. I've definitely seen and heard a few parties in the past few weeks too.”


April’s husband is a physician, she says. “He chastised the manager at D’Agostino for not requiring employees to wear masks. Now everyone there wears one. We both have serious issues that would complicate a COVID infection. It angers me that so many people don’t follow a simple rule.”


The CDC’s recommendations have remained the same since early April. Maintain six feet social distancing, and wear a cloth face covering in public settings where social distancing is difficult to maintain (grocery stores, pharmacies, the bus, etc). This is to help those who are asymptomatic from spreading the virus to others. 

However, it adds that cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under the age of two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.


In New York, people are required by law to cover their faces in public, with masks or bandanas, when social distancing isn't possible. But, before we call out our neighbors, it's worth realizing that shaming can have the opposite of the desired effect. “Shaming people is, I think, like ‘Just Say No to Drugs,’” Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, told the New York Times. “It doesn’t deal with people’s psychology, with people’s economic circumstances, their own fears and anxieties, and so it just seems wrong to me."

Greg was an activist during the AIDS epidemic, and says: “If you’re going to tell people they can’t have sex for 40 years, people would be pissed. And there were a lot of people who were upset about the introduction of safer sex. You have to go back to harm reduction: you meet people where they’re at.”


Debbie had COVID-19 just as NY PAUSE was put into place. “It took me about six weeks to recover and I still have issues with my lungs,” she says. “I wouldn't wish this virus on my enemies. Even though I have antibodies, I still wear a mask and gloves. Who knows – I could be a carrier. I am disgusted by people who don't wear masks or socially distance. Even though I am safe, I am concerned about the safety of others.


“Some people are not taking this seriously, which is so disturbing since one can't miss the tally of deaths each day. I think their desire to be with their friends overrides their need to be safe. These people seem to be between 20 and 30 years old. I see a lot of people with masks on their chins. They don't raise them as they pass people on the sidewalks. I find myself making detours into the street to avoid maskless people, even though I could be resistant.


“I have seen runners spitting on the street, and still see people coughing without covering their mouths. Down at Hudson River Park there are gatherings of people without masks. The paths are crowded and there is no way to socially distance when passing someone coming from the other direction.”


Beth has had the virus since March 15. “Yes, nine and a half weeks, and I still have serious symptoms,” she says.


“I only go out to go to the hospital/doctor/lab. But from what I've seen when out, from the view from my window, and what I see in my friends' posts, I think I have a clear picture.


“People are not sufficiently social distancing. The majority are wearing masks, but there's a good percentage not wearing them properly (ie not covering their nose or letting it dangle below their chin or by one ear). Some are brazen enough to not wear a mask at all, which is outrageous to me.


"I wish people would understand how impactful COVID-19 can be. Many suffer long-term symptoms."

“The guidelines are important and I hope people follow them. I worry that more will get sick as fewer people follow them as time goes on and the weather encourages people to go outdoors. In cold weather, people don't mind hunkering down in their apartments. With sunny, warm days, they want to get outside, and more interaction will occur.

“I wish people would understand how impactful COVID-19 can be. Many suffer long-term symptoms. In fact, there's currently a petition asking the major health organizations to update their guidelines to accurately reflect recovery periods."


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