Spot someone who is not wearing a mask? Here’s what you should (and shouldn’t) do

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My current strategy for encouraging non-masked aliens to put on a mask is to make them look dirty, then quickly walk past them in a large curve as if they have a magnetic force field that repels everything. Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t work. Either they don’t notice, don’t care, or think I’m hitting.

Fortunately, the majority of people I see outside have followed public health guidelines, but what should I do (if any) when I see this person not wearing a mask or physically distancing himself? I want to ensure the safety of those around me. After all, we’re meant to be together in this COVID-19 pandemic, right?

I asked my Twitter followers what they do when they meet someone who isn’t physically distancing themselves or wearing a mask. Most responded that they kept their distance and moved on, adding that it was not worth the risk of an angry individual approaching their face. Others said they tried to tell people to hide but were ignored. When it comes to a business, some people no longer shop there if they don’t feel safe.

Steve Joodens, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, says that even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to be accusatory by asking someone to wear a mask. When confronted, people tend to have a fight or flight response, and as we’ve seen through countless viral videos, a few have gone for the latter.

Joodens says there’s a temptation to automatically think of a wearer without a mask as a conspiracy theorist who doesn’t believe in COVID-19, and while there are people who fit that description, there are also individuals who might still be in a state of denying that a pandemic is occurring after suffering a personal trauma such as the loss of a job or a loss of a family member.

“To some extent we have lost our previous way of life and wearing a mask is associated with accepting that life will not be the same,” he said. “For some people, it’s hard to accept.”

If this is someone you think you can reason with, Joodens suggests giving them a chance to articulate why they are not wearing a mask or where their frustrations are coming from in order to calm what could be a hostile situation. This could prevent them from rationalizing their current actions and be a turning point for them.

But if it’s in a public setting like a grocery store, Joodens says it’s best to ask staff to step in because they have the power to enforce the rules.

“They have a certain status and can quote the store’s policy,” he said. “They can say, ‘I know it’s a pain, but wearing a mask is literally the store’s policy and we’re going to face a fine if someone doesn’t have a mask.’ For them, making it less personal can be more emotional.

Associate professor Suzanne Sicchia in teaching at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health says shaming people, arguing with them and calling them COVIDIOTS will not achieve any positive results.

She agrees with Joodens – if it’s someone you’re comfortable speaking with, try to understand the root of their actions and maybe keep a spare mask and a bottle of disinfectant for a while. friend or family member.

If it’s a stranger, Sicchia says it’s easier to talk to you.

She remembers going shopping in the spring and being approached by a woman in her 80s who was not wearing a mask, as well as another man who said he had just returned from a trip. Sicchia continued to back away as the two tried to strike up a conversation with her. She told them that she wanted to keep her distance because she didn’t want to make them sick. “I’m just saying I don’t want to affect you,” she says.

Toronto Public Health Assistant Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey said in an email that there are legitimate medical reasons why a mask may be difficult to wear, such as cognitive impairment, disabilities or problems with mobility.

These people should be very careful to stay home when sick, wash their hands frequently and keep a physical distance from others, Dubey says. If you’re around someone who can’t wear a mask, she adds, the best protection is to maintain the minimum two-meter buffer zone.

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Above all, protect yourself first, adds Sichhia. Joodens and Sicchia say sometimes it’s easier to get out of a situation where you don’t feel safe or feel the policies are not being enforced. Follow mask protocols, keep your distance, and lead by example for all.

Personally, I have fun trying to think of a Halloween costume that would go with a mask.

Karon Liu is a Toronto-based cultural journalist for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu

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