Masked. An essay by Juliet Wilson

My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.

The Scottish Government recently advised people to start covering their face when using public transport or in shops. I think it’s a week later now (time passes strangely under lockdown) and only the same number of people as two weeks ago are covering their faces in the local supermarket. The staff in this supermarket don’t wear masks, but stand behind transparent plastic shields to serve the customers.

Surgical masks (which are designed to be discarded after one use) should be restricted to medical and care personnel. The general public should wear reusable masks or other face coverings (such as a scarf or bandana), which used properly offer some protection for the wearer and for other people.

Face coverings protect other people from being infected by the person wearing them. So, to be effective, everyone needs to wear them, so wearing them should be made mandatory in crowded, enclosed spaces. Otherwise most people won’t wear them and the benefit will be small.

The advice from the Scottish Government did not come with any advice on how best to use face coverings, other than wash them after each use. So many people wear a mask round their neck and then pull it over their face when someone approaches or when they enter a shop. This means they’re touching their face more than they otherwise would and potentially contaminating the inside of their mask every time they pull it over their face, so increasing their risk of infection. Some people cover only their mouth, rather than having the mask over their nose as well. Some people just don’t have a clue:

Case Study 1: A guy in the street, who had a surgical mask round his neck, swigging on a bottle of beer and belching.

Case study 2: A video featuring a young woman in a surgical mask and gloves who was sorting through waste materials to find things that could be recycled. Before speaking to camera, she pulled down her mask from the front with her gloved hands, touching her face more than she otherwise would and potentially contaminating the inside of her mask with virus particles.

Case Study 3: The grocery store cashier who leaves a mask lying on a table. He puts the mask on every time a customer comes to the till, touching his face more than he otherwise would and potentially contaminating the inside of the mask. At the same time (if he has the virus) potentially releasing virus particles into the air every time he takes it off and puts it back on the table.

Used correctly, a mask will prevent you from infecting anyone else, and you (we all) could be infected but asymptomatic. Used correctly, a mask can slightly reduce your chances of catching the virus, using it incorrectly increases your risk.

You should put your mask on in your safe place (your home or your car) and keep it on, while you do your shopping and until you return to your safe place. You should not touch the mask while wearing it. You should wash your hands before touching the mask to put it on or take it off and touch only the fastening. Ideally you should wash it at a high temperature after every use. There is no need to wear a mask outdoors unless it is crowded or if walking from your home or car to a supermarket or other crowded place. Wearing a mask only protects you and others thoroughly if you still follow social distancing. (Please check reputable sources for full advice!)

Wearing a mask in crowded places is sensible. Learning how to wear one properly is even more sensible.

My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.


Juliet is an adult education tutor and conservati on volunteer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She blogs at Crafty Green Poet

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