Wearing or not wearing a mask during the pandemic

By Vera Johansson

In a world of an on-going pandemic, wearing a mask has become an important segment to be able to move around in the shared spaces. However, that tradition has not been manifested in Sweden to the same degree as in other countries. One reason for this might be that The Public Health Agency of Sweden has chosen not to issue any recommendations to wear a mask. One reason for this that has been given is that “there are obvious risks if masks are used incorrectly. Theoretically, they have not been shown to have any effect”. Meanwhile, some people wear it due to the impact it has had on the rest of the world, with the motivation that “masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others”. But how much do they help, and who are we wearing our mask for?

One perspective that has been lifted more frequently is that masks are used as a routine or a way to show that you are doing the right thing, but in truth, many people are using the mask incorrectly. Some argue that the mask is worn as a psychological mechanism, a ritual if you will, that increases a feeling of self-righteousness. Some would even go as far as to say that mask wearers focus on that they are contributing to a better society by wearing a mask, and therefore, has done what they can to reduce the infectivity. This implies that people who wear masks might use it incorrectly which actually would do more damage than benefit. On the contrary, there is research that states that masks do help to decrease infection (for instance Ben Cowling’s research, professor in epidemiology at the University of Hongkong).

 

As I wanted to explore this relationship and reasoning behind the choice of wearing a mask during the pandemic, I talked to one person who wears a mask, one that does not, and finally one person who does not wear a mask but is positive about the idea under the right circumstances. Sandra, who wears a mask does so based on the research that has been done which confirms that this helps, especially when going on a bus or going to a crowded place like a supermarket where social distancing is not a possibility. “I don’t see why you would not wear one when there’s been so much evidence that it helps to avoid spreading of the virus. I know there has been a discussion of how to use it right, but I have like 10 different masks that I wash after I have used them. I don’t touch the mask unless I have to pull it on or off”.

 

Patrik, who does not wear a mask, has made that choice because of other research that has been criticizing whether it helps or not: “I generally don’t take the train since I mostly bike around the city. I work from home but of course, I see the problem when I go out to a restaurant to have a beer. I just think it wouldn’t help so much since you would have to take it off and on a lot. I try to keep my distance and I don’t think there’s much more I can do.”

Lastly, Christina does not wear a mask because she feels unsure about that choice since not many people wear them and she fears it wouldn’t help. “There are not many people that wear them so I feel like it wouldn’t help me. I think it would be good if everyone wore them in public transport, but what is the point if I’m the only one that wears them?”.

The reasoning behind the mask-wearing is clearly very split and a reason for that could be because there is not enough research on the subject, but also due to the different ways, countries all over the world have decided to deal with the research that has been done.

The masks can also be seen as a façade and a part of a system of a public ritual during the pandemic. Patrik describes his viewpoint like this: “I believe there are many people just showing off, for instance, they wear a mask but they still surround themselves around people. It makes you wonder why they are really wearing it”. While Sandra, who wears a mask, does not confirm this statement she describes the act of wearing a mask as a representative for “an act of goodwill which communicates solidarity to people around you”.

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