Bay Area continues the mandate requiring all people to wear masks indoors. I support health directives that have a meaningful impact. At this point in the pandemic cycle, I do not see evidence that it does though. To my annoyance, the requirement stays.
Certain individuals announce they intend to wear masks indefinitely. They believe it is useful to not only prevent covid, but also other infectious diseases like seasonal flu. Since this is a low cost measure and beneficial enough, they say they will keep wearing masks forever.
I found such justification alarming. Humanity has lived with infectious diseases since the beginning of time. Is there such a grave threat that, at this point of history, we decided to change our behavior permanently? Are these people just overdoing it?
I am particularly opposed to the idea that wearing a mask is a low cost measure. There are common objections. It constricts airflow and is uncomfortable to wear all day. It makes speaking and hearing more difficult. Fogging on glasses is a constant annoyance for me. Even if it is low cost for an individual to do, mandating something for the entire population for an extended period of time automatically makes it not low lost.
My greatest concern of all is that it impairs our emotional connection with other human. The economic cost of wearing a mask may be small compared to shutting down the city, but the social and emotional cost is not. We are just not good at measuring it.
Scientists have learned human brains are hard-wired to recognize faces. We are social species. We communicate a lot simply by reading other people’s facial expressions. Does the other person agree with us? Are they happy? Angry? Worried? All this we can tell to a great degree from other people’s faces. This is our innate ability as a human. Face masks obscure half of the face from us. It impairs our ability to read and understand other people.
Perhaps the greatest master of facial expression is Charlie Chaplin. His silent movies have delighted us since last century. His comic character, the Little Tramp, produced belly laughs to generations of audiences. Chaplin delivered the dynamic performance through pantomime acts using only facial expressions and body gestures. His presentation is understood and beloved universally across all cultures.
If Chaplin were to perform with a mask on, it would lose much of the charm. We won’t see the character’s signature mustache. There won’t be a grinning teeth smile, nervous smile, embarrassed smile, surprise face, disdain face, or frightened face. Charlie’s performance would have fallen flat if it was hidden under a mask.
Like many pandemic prevention measures, they incur hidden costs for inhibiting social and emotional connection. Having no dollar amount attached does not mean it is not significant. Quite the contrary, its toll on our well being should not be underestimated. We don’t want to keep on inhibiting social connection beyond what is necessary. We want to see Charlie Chaplin’s beloved characters as a complete person, not hidden under a mask.