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Is It Courteous to Wear a Mask?

Many people feel that the courteous or considerate thing to do during this pandemic is to wear a mask around others, since even if it makes no difference, they may think it makes a difference and feel more comfortable if you wear a mask. I feel that way sometimes myself. We all want to be considerate of others and their feelings. But is that really the considerate thing to do? And is it considerate of them to ask you to wear a mask?

First, let’s look at this from the standpoint of a business owner or manager, a store, a church, a school, or individually, when that institution or person asks or requires that employees, customers, parishioners of a church, students in a school, or visitors to your home wear a mask. Is that considerate? No, it is not. It is very inconsiderate.

1. Masks make little or no difference in the spread of COVID, so asking or requiring others to wear a mask does nothing or nearly nothing to reduce your risk of getting COVID.

2. Your risk of dying or becoming seriously ill from COVID is roughly the same (1.7 times higher, to be precise, with the original strains and less now) as your risk from influenza, so if masks are required during COVID they should have always been required because of influenza.

3. Masks are uncomfortable to wear, especially for hours on end, as is required of employees and students.

4. Masks increase significantly the carbon dioxide the wearer breathes and decreases the oxygen the wearer breathes. That is bad for their health, mental acuity, and mood.

5. Other people wearing a mask makes it harder for you to understand them talking and to read facial expressions and to bond with them and receive happiness from seeing them smile.

Points 3 and 4 make asking others to wear a mask a real harm to them, and under points 1 and 2 it does little or no good for you. In fact, under point 5, it does real harm to you as the person asking or requiring them to wear a mask, which even from your own point of view means the other person wearing a mask probably does you more harm than benefit.

Next, let’s look at this from the standpoint of the person being asked to wear a mask. Is the considerate thing to do to comply and wear the mask? I would contend no, it is not.

Even setting aside your own discomfort and harm under points 3 and 4 above, just from the standpoint of what the other person’s real interests are, you are probably doing them more harm than benefit by wearing a mask. Your wearing a mask has little, and I believe no, effect of reducing the other person’s risk from COVID (and unless the other person is quite old and sick, their risk is trivial to start with). And you are actually doing that person harm, under point 5 above, of making it harder for them to understand you, basically impossible for them to read your facial expressions, and denying them the pleasure of seeing you smile at them.

So I would contend that when asked to wear a mask, the really considerate thing to do is to refuse.

And I contend that it is always highly inconsiderate and rude to ask another to wear a mask or to require your employees, students, or worshippers in church to wear a mask.

The exception would be if an elderly or ill person asks you to wear a mask around them. I would still contend they should not and it is in a sense inconsiderate of them to ask that, because it really does them little if any good. But an elderly or ill person is, or perhaps I should say “was” if the Omicron strain is as harmless as it appears to be, at risk of severe illness and death from COVID, so their fear is reasonable. So yes, wear a mask around that person if they ask you to. That would be the considerate thing to do, even if it does them little or no good.

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