Skip to main content

How do you deal with people who refuse to wear a mask?

How do you deal with people who refuse to wear a mask?


Courtesy on the part of both parties may be the only strategy available

Share this story

A pattern of light blue face masks against a purple background.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

You’d think that months of reading about overflowing hospitals and mounting death statistics would scare almost anyone into following the current Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations: wear a mask in public spaces to protect others from possible infection, especially since there is no current way to be sure who may be an asymptomatic transmitter — particularly in relatively crowded urban areas.

However, these days, when I go out for a walk or to run errands, at least half the people I see are not wearing masks — or are wearing their masks around their necks, as though those pieces of cloth or paper are good-luck totems rather than items with a specific purpose.

Admittedly, face masks are not convenient or particularly pleasant to wear. They can be hot on summer days; they can be uncomfortable if not fitted properly; they can make your glasses fog up; they get in the way of eating, drinking, and talking (especially on the phone); and they can muffle your voice and hide your smile.

There are other reasons that people may avoid wearing masks. There are those with breathing difficulties and other valid reasons for avoiding face coverings. There is the political aspect — wearing a mask, or not wearing one, has become a statement in some circles of one’s support of a specific political point of view. There is confusion over the mixed signals we are getting from medical experts and political leaders. There is simple bravado: ‘Nobody is going to tell me what to wear!’ And there is mental fatigue: after several months of dealing with a pandemic, and no end in sight, it’s tempting to just throw up your hands and go about your life.

But what if you feel that people should be wearing masks? How do you deal with the anger — not to mention the possible danger? Should you confront them? I went looking for advice online. I found some — but nothing that would immediately solve the issue.

Re-opening Continues Across Densely Populated New York And New Jersey Areas
Confronting people who are maskless may not be the best strategy.
Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Shaming doesn’t work

Julia Marcus, an epidemiologist and professor at Harvard Medical School, says in her article in The Atlantic that shaming people for not wearing masks is counterproductive. She recommends that we follow the example of the organizations that distributed condoms during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and make disposable masks easily available where they’re most needed — at the front of stores or airports, for example. She also suggests that it might help if we make sure that masks fit well and look, well, cool. (In other words, make people want to wear them.)

In the SF Chronicle, writer Tony Bravo talks to etiquette experts about how — or rather, whether — to confront people who are not wearing masks in stores and other public spaces. It is generally agreed upon among these courtesy mavens that confrontation (besides being possibly dangerous) doesn’t work. Bravo quotes Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the famous etiquette expert Emily Post, as saying that it’s best to simply lead by example. “Our brains can want to punish or shame people who aren’t following the rules. That never gets people on your side. The thing you can do is control yourself and do everything you can to protect yourself.”

And don’t assume you know why they’re not wearing masks, points out Aziza Ahmed, a professor who specializes in health law at Northeastern University. There are people with legitimate health reasons for not wearing a mask. Sometimes it’s best to simply ask them to step back if they get too close for comfort.

Perhaps it may help to acknowledge those who do recognize the need for care. On a recent morning, I was walking on a narrow sidewalk and a man who had obviously just finished a jog turned the corner onto my street, his mask around his neck. As soon as he saw me, however, he immediately put the mask in place. As we passed each other, we nodded in recognition of our mutual courtesy, and then went our separate ways.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 25 Not just you

Emma RothSep 25
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.

Emma RothSep 25
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.

External Link
Emma RothSep 25
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.