This morning (Saturday) I had to ship scan CDs overnight from Washington state to my cancer doc in Colorado for my virtual appointment on Tuesday. Don’t fret, it’s routine follow-up–I’m not attending in person because I do not want to fly during a pandemic.
When I entered the UPS store, neither employee behind the counter was wearing a mask. Masks are required in Washington State as of yesterday, due to increasing cases of COVID-19.
When I politley asked the clerk serving me to put on a mask, he emphatically stated, “No, I’m not going to do it.” And stared at me.
I needed to send the package ASAP, so I proceeded anyway.
I told the clerk I was sending medical records to my cancer doctor in another state because I don’t feel safe flying during this pandemic. I said needed them to arrive on Monday for my virtual medical appointment on Tuesday. He processed my package efficiently, but told me he couldn’t guarantee on time delivery due to COVID-19. Fingers crossed that it arrives on time.
I debated whether to say anything more about the mask. Despite being a somewhat outspoken patient advocate, I usually won’t make waves over customer service snafus that cost me a minimal amount of money–I have other ways to spend my time that will make more of a difference in the world. In this case, however, I decided the possibility of helping someone come to realize how masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19 was worth the effort.
When our business was done, I thanked the clerk, and (to acknowledge his viewpoint) said I understood he had a right not to wear a mask, that it can be inconvenient or uncomfortable. I then said if he wore a mask, he would help protect people like me, who are in the high-risk group for severe COVID-19. He looked at me and said simply OK. Then he called for the next customer.
I thought that’s all one can do in real time.
I posted about this incident on Facebook, and learned a number of my friends (many of them also in the high-risk group for COVID-19 due to age, health conditions, or both) had encountered hostility from unmasked workers in places of business. The suggestions my friends offered got me thinking about additional actions to address the issue of the unmasked during a pandemic.
I believe the science and data shows wearing a mask DOES help protect others and reduce the spread of the virus. I want more people to accept that they should wear a mask, even though it may be inconvenient or uncomfortable. Pressure from employers may change minds when compassion can’t.
However, I think confronting and/or intimidating the unmasked is not particularly safe–some people feel quite strongly about this topic, and will aggressively defend their “right” not to wear one. Besides potential verbal unpleasantness and bodily harm, confrontation may also generate shouting, which will only spread virus droplets further. If the individual does not respond to a respectful request, I think leaving the establishment is the safer route.
But I can continue to press after I get home. UPS will be hearing from me. Which leads me to the approach I’ve decided to take.
When being served during the COVID-19 pandemic by an unmasked (or improperly masked) person at a place of business, I will do the following:
- Calmly tell the person I would appreciate them wearing a mask to protect me (a person at high risk of severe COVID-19). If they are wearing a mask but it’s not properly positioned to cover both the mouth and nose, I will ask them to position the mask properly. If they don’t comply, I won’t press further.
- After I’ve left the establishment, I will contact the store’s manager and remind them if they want customers to come in, they must respect customer requests to be protected from infection. If applicable government regulations require wearing a mask, I will remind the manager of this.
- If the store is a franchise, I’ll repeat #2 with corporate headquarters via phone, email and/or Twitter (many businesses scan Twitter to catch posts that could generate bad public relations).
- If applicable government regulations require wearing masks, I will contact the appropriate health department to report the health violation.
Applying pressure through employers increases the chances that the unmasked will start wearing masks in public. I encourage you to participate in this!
Please share in the comments what approach worked for you. Please remember to keep yourself safe — avoid escalation!
Thanks to everyone who responded to my Facebook post on this subject for their great suggestions!