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Masks Are a Health Issue, Not a Political One

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Published on June 17, 2020

During the coronavirus pandemic, many us are wearing masks to protect ourselves and others. But not everyone understands the importance. How should we respond to those who question us?
 
In this final segment from our recent Answers Now program, social work program manager Harold Dean from UAMS Myeloma Center talks to host Esther Schorr about how he is advising the patients he works with when they discuss masks with others. Watch as he provides ideas for how to phrase this important conversation.

This is the last part of a three-part series. Watch Part 1 at Breast Cancer Patient Hassled For Wearing Mask and Part 2 at Lung Cancer Patient Criticized For Not Wearing Mask of this program.

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Transcript | Masks Are a Health Issue, Not a Political One

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Esther Schorr:   

Harold, you talk to a lot of cancer patients in your role. Cancer patients will be facing this issue of mask wearing probably longer than the general public is my guess. Do you wear a mask? Tell us about how you manage this and how you counsel people?

Harold Dean:

Yes, I do wear a mask. Of course, working here in healthcare our facility requires that we wear a mask into the building and out of the building, and then when we're moving through different congregate areas of the building we're wearing fabric masks. That's kind of in some ways become a fun thing. It's become a fashion thing for some people because there are some days when one bow tie is just not enough. When we're seeing patients, we're wearing a different kind of mask. We're wearing a surgical mask and we're wearing goggles.

But having said that, definitely when I am not at work and I go out I'm wearing a mask. Quite frankly, as a healthcare professional, I think anybody that's in healthcare should be doing that, because our responsibility as a healthcare provider does not end when we step through that office door and go home in the evening. When we're going out into the community, we have a responsibility to try to safeguard the health of others in our personal lives as well. So I absolutely am wearing a mask.

Esther Schorr:

What are you telling patients when they're not in healthcare? You've heard two scenarios of two different people who have set their own guidelines for what they're comfortable with based on everything we're talking about. So what are you telling people about what they should do and what they should be saying when they get pushback from other people?

Harold Dean:

Sure. What I've been doing and the patients that I work with and work with in a support group that I lead, we just talked about the importance of being your own advocate and not feeling bad about wearing a mask, that there's absolutely no dishonor in wearing a mask. Unfortunately, and I know this could all shift in a different way, and I know we don't want to do that, but unfortunately mask wearing has somehow permutated into some kind of political issue. And the reality is, this is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is a public health, a public protection issue.

Really in the work that I do with patients, I'm really strongly encouraging people not to feel bad, to do exactly everything that you've said; to wear a mask. If you can avoid going out, like with grocery shopping, errands, if you can have those things delivered in, by all means, minimize your risk and do those things. But if you can't, wear a mask, wear the gloves, be diligent in hand-washing. We like to talk about not necessarily social distancing, because social distancing has the connotation that people are sort of limiting their social contacts, so instead we kind of talk about physical distancing and making sure that that physical distancing is at least six feet apart.

The reality is unfortunately you cannot control the behavior of other people. I don't know how professional the sounds of me, but the reality is that there are going to be some jerks out there. You're going to have people who are going to act in ways that are not particularly compassionate and maybe in some ways that are not particularly knowledgeable about what's going on. So we just tried to really encourage people not to be dismayed and not to feel bad about what they're doing.

I saw someone recently who said, "You know, if people kind of give me the snake eye for wearing a mask, then I start coughing, and usually they go away and they kind of back off." I don't know would that work for everybody, but maybe.

Esther Schorr:

No, that's interesting, because I actually mentioned to my husband this morning that I have noticed that when we walk down the street with our masks on and we see anybody with or without a mask, we automatically, either we're in the bike lane walking or on the sidewalk, we sort of make room. But I've noticed when people see us with masks now they move, they give us distance. So I think there's some beginning awareness of what this is.

I just want to say we had two different stories presented to us of confrontative encounters. What would you recommend to somebody who is ... what could they say to somebody or do they say nothing when they're confronted for their behavior with a mask? What might be an appropriate thing to say?

Harold Dean:

My grandmother had a wonderful saying that was, "The least said is the easiest mended." I think that sometimes when you have someone, if they're being confrontive like that, it's probably best not to engage because that's probably going to just aggravate them even more, it's going to antagonize them even more. And so I think if you can do that certainly, maybe just walk away, physically distance yourself from them. But if you feel like you need to say something, I think exactly what our other two guests here today had shared is to say, "I'm doing this for your protection."

Esther Schorr:

Kind of disarms the other person. There was one question from somebody today living in Virginia, where masks are strongly recommended by the governor when they're in public spaces, especially in businesses. The statement was, "I was recently in a small business where I was the only person out of nine people, three employees and six customers, who were wearing a mask. How am I supposed to respond in that kind of a situation?" That's open for discussion.

Harold Dean:

Well I can share a similar experience. I was showing a family member's home recently, they were out of town, that asked me to show their home, which had been on the market a long time. I was wearing a mask. The realtor came to the home and walked in the door and said, "Oh, I don't have on a mask. Should I?" And neither did the prospective buyer or her young child that was with her. The home has been on the market a long time, and I really didn't want to jeopardize the potential sale, and so I said, "No, that's okay. I'm wearing a mask. I'll make sure and social distance from you, but I'm in healthcare and you really should be wearing a mask. And now I'm going to get off my soap box." And then we moved on and showed the house.

I think in those situations, if a person feels strongly, I think they can speak out and let those people in that store or that business know, "I would feel more comfortable as your customer, if your employees would wear a mask." I think you definitely could do that. And if you don't feel comfortable doing that in person, then I think you could do that either by making a phone call or a follow up with some sort of comment, if they have a Facebook page or on their website, I think you definitely could do that.

Esther Schorr:

Okay, great. Well this conversation that we've been having, it sounds like we have to look at it as needing to achieve a balance of personal freedom and civic responsibility. People are feeling as though they're being told to do something they really don't want to do. Somebody made the analogy the other day to, "By law we have to wear seat belts now." I remember the days where seatbelts were optional, but they became mandatory when it was proven that if you get in an accident, you could die without a seatbelt.

So there's that balance of what are we willing to give up in our personal freedoms and also be responsible? Do you have a responsibility to protect yourself or other people? And if you're not worried about yourself, should you worry about your neighbor? And from listening to this conversation, it really kind of comes down to wanting each person to decide where they fall in that spectrum of personal freedom versus their responsibility for other people. I guess my ask would be to please have everyone consider other people besides yourself, and that's kind of what I've been hearing here.

I just want to thank Greta, I want to thank Gina and I want to thank Harold. This has been a wonderful conversation, and I'm sure that this kind of conversation is probably going on in a lot of households right now. So hopefully your insights and your experiences are going to help some of the folks who are listening kind of forward that conversation, both in their own households and when they go out in public.

I just want to say, thank you. I'm Esther Schorr. And if you see me outside, I'll be wearing my mask. Please remember that knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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