By Tom Evans
I had an awkward encounter last week when a recently widowed friend joined my family for dinner in one of our local restaurants. The restaurant was operating in accordance with the governor’s mandate, and, because our friend is deaf, she and those of us needing to communicate with her, fall under one of the eight categories of face mask exemptions.
We wore masks upon arrival and to place our order, but frequently removed them to communicate with our friend. A customer in line vigorously expressed concern over these lapses. It became quite uncomfortable and, with my mask in place, I eventually responded in anger. I’m not normally quick to anger and would guess this person is also not normally one to intrude or seek confrontation, but, perhaps out of fear and frustration, reacted without an understanding of our situation.
There’s little wonder fear and confusion reign with so much conflicting information. No one claims face masks are thorough protection, but there is growing consensus they can — especially indoors — be of some help in reducing transmission of the virus.
Scientists tell us COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact (i.e., less than 6 feet) with an infected person through the respiratory droplets produced by coughing or sneezing. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose or be inhaled into the lungs of those nearby. Depending on the quality and fit of the mask, a varying percentage of these droplets will be filtered out.
Research also shows the virus can spread through the breath of an infected person in aerosol particles too small for any of the commonly worn masks to be effective. It’s easy to identify and distance from someone who is coughing or sneezing, but not so easy to avoid suspended particles from the exhalation of an infected person who is asymptomatic. Knowing this, it seems prudent to practice social distancing, whether masked or unmasked.
Regrettable displays of emotion, such as what happened at the restaurant, occur more frequently than in pre-COVID days. Our fears and lack of understanding can result in loud confrontations which produce the larger particles masks can contain, so it’s especially good we were all masked at the time.
But please be aware the government and health organizations have deemed the wearing of masks to be more hazardous to some in our population than the protective benefits warrant. Wearing a mask is a kindness extended to those who are most vulnerable. In certain cases, as with the deaf, that kindness is expressed by not wearing a mask. In these fearful times, let’s wear masks with understanding, stay calm, practice social distancing and remember most of us are just doing the best we can.
For the guidance on face coverings issued by the state, visit https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/CDPH%20Document%20Library/COVID-19/Guidance-for-Face-Coverings_06-18-2020.pdf.