Daily Dilemmas

Speaking Up About Pandemic Mask Rules

Sheri Denkensohn-TrottQ. I’m having an issue with people not wearing masks. I’m a paraplegic, and I live in an urban community. I’d like to go out to my favorite local coffee shop and show my support while we’re all dealing with COVID-19, but some customers there don’t wear masks. I always wear one and, because of lung complications from when I was first injured, I’m mindful of whether others have face coverings. I went to buy coffee the other day and could see through the shop’s windows that the employees behind the coffee bar all had masks. The shop allows only a few customers at a time, to maintain appropriate distancing according to current rules, but some patrons weren’t wearing masks, and I didn’t see a sign requiring face coverings. I wanted to say something to the people without masks but worried they wouldn’t be receptive to my comments or could potentially respond with verbal aggression. Plus, I don’t like confrontation, so I went home without coffee. How can I go out to enjoy my favorite places without endangering my health? How do I help people understand that by not wearing masks, they put me at risk?

A. The decisions you make about what health precautions you should take regarding COVID-19 are very personal, and you should start by consulting your primary care doctor.

When it comes to going out, know the current COVID-19 rules in your area. It’s also a good idea to maintain a calendar of your activities outside of your home to make contact tracing easier if you are exposed to the virus on one of your outings. Requirements regarding masking at retail establishments differ by jurisdiction and are likely to change frequently because of the shifting nature of the COVID-19 situation.  Before engaging in any conversations with other patrons and/or management, be aware of the regulations as well as related exceptions. For example, some jurisdictions have exceptions for individuals with disabilities who cannot put on or take off a mask independently. Also, research reporting mechanisms for noncompliance with COVID-19 rules within your jurisdiction; these may include email addresses, online forms, or telephone numbers for the local health department or other entities monitoring COVID-19.

After educating yourself, you have a few options that may be safer and more effective than confronting a non-masked patron directly. You might approach the management of the coffee shop to inquire about its COVID-19 policies in general. If local regulations do require customers to wear masks inside retail establishments like coffee shops, you might follow up with examples of noncompliance you witnessed and ask management how the policy is being enforced. Additionally, if the shop requires face coverings and you see noncompliant customers on your next visit, you might opt to report these patrons to management. You may need to explain the rules to the managers and educate them on why it is important to protect you and other high-risk individuals, but you don’t have to do this from inside the shop. Consider calling and asking to speak with a manager, either on the phone or in person outside, to avoid being indoors with unmasked customers. If you see widespread violations of current COVID-19 policies in your community, you may want to alert your local, county, state and/or federal representatives.

Another idea that eliminates risk but supports the shop is to call ahead to order your drink and have it brought out to you. When the drink is delivered, mention that you called ahead because other customers aren’t wearing masks and that endangers your health. Lastly, you can decide to avoid the issue entirely by either choosing to remain at home or staying away from establishments that are not complying with current rules and regulations related to COVID-19.

Many disability advocates feel strongly about speaking up in whatever format is most effective, including on social media, as the risk of developing severe symptoms from COVID-19 can be greater for individuals with disabilities than for those without. It is up to you to decide whether or not to speak up.

In sum, you have choices about your comfort levels and the risks you are willing to take based on your personal health and living situations. It also remains your prerogative to choose the advocacy route you want to pursue when dealing with COVID-19-policy violations you witness.

** This post was originally published on https://www.newmobility.com/2020/08/speaking-up-about-mask-rules/

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