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To Wear a Mask or Not to Wear a Mask…that is the Question

Updated: Oct 23, 2022

At the time that I’m writing this article, the CDC is recommending that all of us wear a mask while in public. Among several scientific publications, a systematic review published on PubMed Central found that community mask wearing could be beneficial, especially for COVID-19, where transmission can happen before symptoms show. JAMA Network (Journal of the American Medical Association) published an article about Masks and Coronavirus Disease 2019 detailing how wearing a mask can limit the spread of the virus.

So, why are so many people in the United States still resisting the notion that wearing a mask can save lives? The answer is complex and probably encompassing from politics to culture.

While working in Japan, I was exposed to the concept of “ittaika”, acting and making decisions based on the wellbeing of all and not just the individual. More than a word, it is a way of life that has no translation to the individualistic approach that we have adopted in the US. I don’t believe one culture is better than the other, both have their benefits and drawbacks; but we can definitely learn from other cultures and make necessary adjustments.

Before Covid-19, during my extensive work-related travels, I noticed that in many Asian countries people walked around wearing masks whenever they thought they might be sick and could spread germs to others. When I asked why they wore masks, perplexed by the question, they replied that they do so as a courtesy towards those around them. It is even fashionable (as one woman from Taiwan pointed out to me) to wear a mask in public, sending the message that they care for others. Of course, some people shared they wore masks to fend against air pollution and others revealed using them as a social firewall (signaling that they want to keep to themselves even though in public).

Yes, there are traces of debate among researchers regarding how effective masks can be against the spread of Covid-19; but wouldn’t you rather attempt to possibly save lives by going through the minute discomfort of wearing a mask (sorry, but wearing a mask is not nearly as uncomfortable as wearing stilettos, getting tattoos or dealing with a hangover after a night of heavy drinking- and many people willingly do these things, even during the pandemic)?

I believe the rights of the individual should end when the rights of others begin. This line is not always clear to all, but in those moments when clarity is not evident, we can shift to an “ittaika” mind frame, adopting changes for the potential benefit of all.

By not wearing a mask, you are potentially placing my life at risk and the lives of my loved ones. By not wearing a mask, you could be contributing towards the further spread of the virus, bringing a toll on the healthcare system and the economy in general. The more we prolong the presence of this virus, the more families are at risk for losing their jobs, their homes, their loved ones. If wearing a mask can potentially help prevent all this, why not do it? Let’s make caring for others fashionable in America and think about what we could accomplish collectively instead of what each one can gain individually.

Please, wear a mask…

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