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How to Deal With an Anti-Masker During COVID-19

December 03, 2020

When it comes to a mask mandate to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that Americans have mixed feelings.

“Ideally, we want 100 percent of people to wear masks, but in one simulation, researchers predicted that if 80 percent of the population wears masks, it will do more to prevent COVID-19 spread than a strict lockdown,” said Jennifer Ferrand, PsyD, Director of Wellness for Hartford HealthCare. “The concept is about risk reduction rather than absolute prevention, but not everyone feels that way.”

Historically, this is nothing new. When seatbelts became commonplace in the mid-20th century, people were hesitant to use them, believing that they would cause more harm than good – despite scientific studies proving otherwise.

“People argued that the decision to use a seatbelt should be personal rather than legal and that as long as the life risk is one’s own, the individual should decide whether or not to use a seatbelt,” Dr. Ferrand said.

The same held true for tobacco that despite scientific evidence that smoking was bad for your health, people continued to smoke.

If there is scientific evidence that wearing a mask will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, why is there so much aversion?

“At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the recommendation was to save masks for healthcare workers because they were not thought to help you,” she said. “Since then, both the CDC and WHO have changed their stance, but these shifting guidelines have appeared to sow some confusion among the public about the utility of masks.”

Other reasons include leadership role modeling, political affiliation, risk level, personality factors and social pressures. Mask wearing has seemingly produced a feud between public health and civil liberties, said Dr. Ferrand.

One technique when talking with someone who is against mask-wearing is using motivational interviewing, suggests Dr. Ferrand. It is a communication strategy that uses empathy rather than being argumentative to help individuals articulate the discrepancy between the way things are and how they would like them to be.

“Understanding and respecting the reasons people offer for their decisions rather than trying to correct or argue allows you to connect and engage,” Dr. Ferrand said. “Here is where you express empathy, which is critical as a precursor for people to start to consider doing something differently.”