If you (individual or country) are still masking, why will you ever stop?

I’m a Japanese/English interpreter, and I had a gig earlier in the week. Two people from Japan were wearing masks the whole time. It was annoying: I couldn’t see their mouths move, and they were harder to hear. Why were they wearing masks when no one else in the room was? Well…

Japan is still all masked up. The whole damn country. Everywhere. My guess is that Japan, even if covid numbers were incontrovertibly measured at zero tomorrow, will not give up the masks until 2025. Just to be safe. Maybe ever.

But I also see peeps here in the US masking up, and I wonder why. Sure, there are the vulnerable. I guess they will have to mask up forever, since covid isn’t going to go away. But I also see some young people, etc., wearing masks. I asked a fairly young person (I would guess she was early 30s tops) who was passing out samples at Costco, why she was still wearing a mask (this was last year, maybe September, in Mobile, Alabama). She said, “Haven’t you heard there’s a global pandemic that’s still raging?” (I paraphrase).

I think the selling of masking up was always pretty poor, and I never heard a succinct and intelligible cost-benefit sales pitch as to why we were doing it (e.g., “If everyone masks up in the US, it will save x number of lives”). No, it was always more general, when a reason was given at all: “This will save at least some people, so do it.” (I looked online myself at the research about masking and how it could help. It’s nice that there was research in support of the practice, but it was rarely cited when masking requirements were promulgated by governments in the US.)

Oh, and hospitals in the US: it seems that they have decided that, yeah, masking forever is a thing. I’m not a fan, but there it is.

Don’t get me wrong, I think masks saved lives. And I think if the human population continued to mask up forever, it would continue to save lives. It would protect people not just from covid but from influenza and other stuff. But the cost-benefit ratio? I don’t think it’s too great.

The trouble is that the benefit was concrete (“This will save at least one person!”) while the cost was fairly abstract (it’s uncomfortable and annoying, and humans, you know, like to see each other’s faces). If someone didn’t like masking, it was easy to shoot them down when the pandemic was at its height: “What, you want to kill people just so you can have a bit more comfort? Are you a Trump voter?!”

But now? I think we are at the point where we can say, “If you’re gonna mask up now, you’re gonna mask up forever.” I think it’s a bit absurd for an individual to wear a mask at this point unless they have a true medical reason. But whole countries where the pandemic just isn’t that bad? I can’t get behind that.

For the record, I am a Liberal who always found masks to be extremely fucking annoying to wear, and surreal and dispiriting to see everyone else wear. I think there was arguably a time and place for it, but now is not then and it.

Thanks for your thoughts!

It has always been a good idea to mask up when you, personally, are sick. The West has only just learned this, while Japan has known it since the Kansas Flu. Even today, people do still sometimes come down with colds and the like, so you should still see some masked people (not always the same masked people, but you might not know that if you’re only seeing a person once).

The difference with covid was that covid has an extremely high rate of people having it while being completely asymptomatic. So when covid was epidemic, everyone was someone who might have covid, and so it made sense for everyone to mask.

…and that right there is why masking, at least in certain circumstances, should become a permanent feature of our society. Lots of people don’t realize that in North America, we virtually wiped out influenza for two years running, even with half-assed masking and social distancing we did in a lot of places. Any other year, and that would have been a major feel-good news story.

Should you mask all the time? No, probably not, unless you’re like the CostCo employee you mention, who is in close contact with a huge number of people every day of the year. But during cold and flu season? Or whenever you hear of a COVID upsurge in your area? Sure, you should mask then, especially when you’re going to be in close proximity to a lot of people you don’t know, like on a bus or something.

No one is going to force you to do this, but even you recognize the value, so why not do it just because it’s a good idea?

The CDC still recommends wearing masks if you come in close indoor contact with vulnerable people on a regular basis. That could be your household, or it could be your customer base. For their protection more than yours - most masks are more effective at preventing you from spreading disease than protecting you.


I lived in Japan eight years. I do agree that masking when one is sick is a prosocial thing to do. And that’s the way Japanese people traditionally did it: if you felt you were sick, you masked up (though it was far from 100% of people who did this). The thing is, if you were wearing a mask to the office (as I indeed saw people do) or just on the train, it was probably more prudent of you just to stay home.

Right. If, however, you know you are sick, you should probably not be out at all,.

I think it’s hard to calculate whether to do so or not when there’s not a pandemic raging. If I feel sick, I should probably stay home and not go out with a mask.

By that logic (and I’m not necessarily saying you’re wrong), then every restaurant server, etc., should mask all year long.

True, but there are times you have to go out, so a mask is still a better option.

Maybe not every one, it would depend on the size of the place, how crowed it is, and what the demographics of the customer base are, but it isn’t an inherently bad idea.

Yes well, in practice, if your business requires staff to mask you may have trouble fully staffing.


And if you had a plan to convince the general US society that paid sick leave is a good idea, I’d agree with you on this. But as it stands, a whole lot of people don’t have the option to just stay home if they’re sick. I had some hope that the last few years would finally turn the corner on this debate, but alas, it was not to be.

I’m not talking about something imposed on the staff, my hope is that people will make the sensible choice of their own free will.

Yes, yes, I know how stupid that sounds.

No brilliant plan, but I agree that our system is pretty shyte.

Food, housing, education, and justice for all… That’s what we need, but yeah…

It’s also worth noting, relevant to OP, that travelers are specifically encouraged by the CDC to mask.


(I’ve quote just two paragraphs I want to address; if this is unacceptable, I’m sure a mod will let me know?)
When you say, "Sure, there are the vulnerable, " as if these people are a rare aberration among an overwhelmingly robust population, and then you go on to a) dismiss them and b) assume that a young woman who looked healthy to you can’t number among them or their household members, you can see where some of us might feel disregarded, surely. And hospitals (and doctors’ offices) are places the vulnerable are most likely to be unable to avoid.

Mr. Legend is under treatment, so far successful, to delay the progress of Stage 4 cancer. His oncologist has asked him to please not get Covid if at all possible. Our adult daughter, who lives with us, is in excellent health, and I’d bet that most of the people in the school where she works don’t know about her dad’s condition. She’ll be wearing a (high-quality N95) mask until she’s reasonably certain she won’t be regularly exposed to a novel virus that plays havoc with the immune and cardiovascular systems.

Because we’re all vaccinated fully, we have relaxed to some degree from the earlier days. We go out occasionally, we now don’t worry about masking on walks, and we have people from our close circles who are similarly careful over to our house. Far fewer people are being hospitalized or dying from it now. But there are no good numbers for the community transmission levels anymore, and I hear over and over about acquaintances who’ve come down with it. I’m hoping some of the ongoing vaccine research bears fruit so that we have better protection. Then maybe I won’t mask everywhere.

In the meantime, if it makes you sad that you can’t see the lower half of my face, feel free to look away.

I still wear cloth masks at work and most other public places for a combination of practical and personal reasons;

  • I come into contact with literally thousands of people a day at work and, let’s face it, the general public is gross
  • I don’t have to force a smile when interacting with people and nobody can complain that I’m not smiling
  • Wearing a mask hides the seborrheic dermatitis I often get on my lower face and hides the fact that I’m missing teeth
  • It’s not as blatantly obvious if I go a day or two without shaving
  • I now have a huge collection of several dozen masks with different faces on them (Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Guy Fawkes, Batman, the Joker, Shrek, my own face, etc.) and I’ve got a reputation as “the funny mask guy” at work that I’ve got to maintain

…to be brutally frank: it doesn’t matter what you think. If two people from Japan wearing masks is annoying you: then there is absolutely nothing that anyone else can do about that. That’s a you problem. And there isn’t anything that anyone here on the boards will be able to help you with.

The pandemic is still raging. 1000 deaths recorded for the 8th of Feb in the US. And that’s with multiple states no longer reporting either daily, or accurately. In the US the “public health emergency” will come to an end in May, and Dr Jha has signalled that Covid vaccines and treatments will transition from federal distribution to regular health care systems. It is already difficult enough for poor and marginalised people to access primary healthcare. In many cases, a mask is the only protection they have.

It is extraordinarily easy for you to ignore this. But if you choose to make an issue about it: there isn’t anything anyone else can do about it. People are just trying to live their lives. You don’t need to make it even more difficult for them.

To my knowledge, we don’t have to worry about “fair use” within threads…

I don’t think you’re wrong. Covid made us think about the vulnerable in new ways. There are no doubt different ways, then, of dealing with this new consciousness. Japan seems to be taking the tack of masking for eternity.

The cost-benefit calculation is difficult. I don’t dismiss the vulnerable. At the same time, I think there are a large number of people who are masking out of generic fear.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with health issues. Cancer is a dick. So is covid.

I don’t blame anyone for making a rational masking choice for themselves.

Uh, that’s not true. We could say, here are potential reasons for wearing a mask. They are international travelers and the host country’s health agency recommends they wear masks. Maybe they interact with people who are vulnerable to disease. Maybe they feel sick or want to avoid the flu or some other disease this time of year. etc. And the OP could be like, “oh, I didn’t think of that! That makes sense.”


…the mere existence of this thread suggests otherwise.