Sanjiva Wijesinha -writer and physician

Short stories, Travel and Health Information

To Mask or Not to Mask?

The first time I visited Japan, I was surprised to see so many people wearing facemasks, of a type similar to what I used to wear when I was working as a surgeon in the operating theatre.

It seemed so incongruous to see so many folk walking through the busy streets with their faces covered, scurrying to catch trains and browsing around the supermarkets. When I asked my daughter (who at the time was working in Japan, and had been living there for the past few years) what this was all about, she explained it as another manifestation of What It Means To Be Japanese : to care more about the society and the community one lives in rather than one’s own self.

Why these people were wearing masks, she explained, was because they had some respiratory infection – a cough, a cold or even just a runny nose. Wearing a mask was a precaution to avoid passing one’s germs on to others. People wore masks not so much to protect themselves but to protect the folk around them from the germs they might be carrying.

We often forget that when we sneeze, cough or even just speak to others, we are spraying innumerable droplets of moisture from our mouth and throat into the air around us. I recall how when I was at school in Sri Lanka we had a wicked nickname for one of our teachers – he was called “Aerosol” because we could see the spray coming out of his mouth when he was talking, especially when he got excited! But it was not just him – ALL of us spray invisible droplets from our mouths and throats. If these droplets contain infective germs, then anybody within “catching” distance of our spray can be infected by our droplets.

So all this business of wearing masks during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic is a good thing because it protects those around us. The Corona virus – just like the common cold virus – is contagious, and any of us could be harbouring the virus in our throats without showing any signs of disease.

How many times have we had colleagues coming to work, sniffling and sneezing and blowing their noses, when they should have been staying at home and resting? If they don’t want to take a day of sick leave and confine their germs to their own homes, then they should only come to work if they wear a mask to prevent themselves giving their germs to those with whom they get close to on the bus, the tram, the train or the workplace.

Wearing a mask these days is not a sign of weakness or having your freedom suppressed or “living in fear of the virus”. It is a sign that you are educated and informed enough to know that you could be showing no symptoms and still be harbouring the virus that you can pass on to others.

Wearing a mask during these COVID-19 times (and hopefully when we return to “normal” times, even if you are having a cough or cold or upper respiratory infection) is a sign that you are being considerate to others, that you have in mind the safety of others.

Just as in Japan, our ethos should be to consider the welfare of those around us even if we find masks uncomfortable – or think they make us look strange!

2 comments on “To Mask or Not to Mask?

  1. susanawee
    July 6, 2020

    It is an interesting question….to mask or not to mask. Here in Western Australia we have very few, if any cases of Co Vid at present, but, my son Michael was until recently, living part time with a nurse who works in the emergency department at Fiona Stanley Hospital and, not only were they advised to get tested regilarly, Mike decided that he was going to wear a mask whenever he was out, especially on the train which he catches each day to get to work. I also wear one in public at the moment because I have developed a throat issue which will be checked on his coming Wednesday. I do this in fairness to othes who are around me and may be vulnerable. uar

  2. Gavin Rodie
    July 6, 2020

    Good for you Sanjiva. It is so true, that people should consider others more specifically at times like this or when having even a simple cold.

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2020 by in Health Matters, Opinion and tagged , , , , .
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