With “Please wear a mask!” signs popping up on the doors of Kings and the Market now, it’s high time to review the World Health Organization’s guidance on masks and coronavirus. The WHO has repeatedly stated that masks should be worn only by those infected with coronavirus or their caregivers. Masks cannot prevent a person from contracting coronavirus. Moreover, the few masks available should be reserved for those who actually need them.
If wearing masks does nothing, and is actually harmful, why is everyone wearing them? For part of the answer, we can turn to one of America’s most beloved cartoons, Peanuts, in which the character Linus van Pelt is never seen without his little blue security blanket. Like Linus’s blanket, masks are comfort objects. They provide individuals with a false sense of control over their environment.
However, masks are also comparable to the “On War Service” badges issued to civilians employed in essential industries by the British government during WWI to identify them as the equals of uniformed service members. Such badges fill a psychological need for their wearers by creating the illusion of a shared experience. Badges also make it easy for wearers to identify and ostracize or refuse service to non-wearers, citing the national emergency as their justification if challenged for bigotry.
It is only possible to conclude that Friday Harborites are so afraid of dying of a new strain of flu that they don’t care how much willful ignorance, insecurity and self-righteousness their behavior reveals.