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In Germany, due to the Corona pandemic, the government requires everyone to wear a mask over their mouth and nose in public when within enclosed spaces like supermarkets or public transportation.

Nevertheless, some people do not wear a mask (or do not wear it correctly), endangering the purpose of that measure. Those people benefit from everyone else not spreading the virus while potentially spreading it themselves.

Top 10 Excuses Offered For Not Wearing Masks Despite Covid-19 Coronavirus

Help! I Want to Yell at People When They Leave Masks Hanging on Their Necks.

Therefore, my question is, what's the best way to remind people in the public to wear their mask correctly? Taking into account that some may have valid reasons, see below.

Please also do a frame challenge, if the most appropriate way would be to not say anything about it at all.

Note: Correctly wearing it here means to cover the nose, not only the mouth. This question is not meant to discuss whether masks help prevent spreading the virus.

Valid reasons not to wear a mask and not having bad intent:

  • Medical contra-indication of wearing a mask, confirmed by medical doctors (strong reason)
  • Foreigners on a visit (from Switzerland or the Netherlands), that might not know and are not prepared to bring a mask for their visit (weak reason, but one would want to be nice to visitors)
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    Hi hintze! What the best way is to do this is primarily opinion based. Especially since you're asking a question about interacting with random strangers, and don't include anything about how you've tried reminding people and how that didn't work out/what kind of improvement you're looking for. While we can help you with your behavior when interacting with these people, your question should include what you've already tried or considered trying, and why that didn't/wouldn't work. So, how have you tried reminding people to wear a mask, and why didn't that work out as you intended?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 23 '20 at 9:50
  • @Tinkeringbell now that it's been edited, is it suitable to be re-opened?
    – hintze
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:43
  • Your edit did not fix any of the problems I outlined in the comment above, so no.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:45
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    There's objective evidence, that an Infographic on SARS-CoV-2 Airborne Transmission Improves Opponents’ View of the Benefits of Masks psyarxiv.com/ac2q4
    – hintze
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:46
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    Sorry, this wasn't meant as an answer to your comment, but rather just another comment on the question itself. Apart from this, this paper isn't about whether masks are benficial. It is about that viewing infographics about this topic encourages people to wear a mask. After all, this question asks how to achieve exactly that.
    – hintze
    Jul 30 '20 at 9:54
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(Since you edited your question, I can now try and give a proper answer).

Considering that those "badly-wearing-mask people" live in the same country as you, where safety advice from the authorities are common, and obviously heed this advice to some extent, I’m pretty sure they wear their masks improperly with due knowledge (= they know it's wrong but they do it nonetheless).

Hence, reminding them to wear it properly is akin to telling them "You’re doing it wrong". How would you react to a stranger telling you this, regarding a choice you made conciously? Probably badly, and I’m sure they would too.

If you asked them why, they’d give you many reasons, but the most honest one in my opinion is "it’s uncomfortable" and that’s it. So unless you can do something about making masks more comfortable, I think you can’t have any long-lasting effect on them.

I would, however, "be the change I want to see"/"lead by example" and wear my mask properly, and respect other safety procedures in the hope that they’d mimic my behaviour.

And if a person wearing a mask in an incorrect fashion approached me too close, I would take a small, prudent but noticeable step back and tell them something like :

Excuse me, I think your mask is mis-positioned : it’s not covering your nose

This way, I’m trying to :

  • not get confrontational ("Excuse me", "I think")
  • point out the problem without incriminating the person ("your mask is mis-positioned")
  • (hopefully) educate them in the proper way ("it’s not covering your nose")

You sadly won’t be able to change a crowd of people’s behaviour, but you might be able to educate some that get too close.

But also be prepared for them to reply "I don’t care" or "No, don’t worry, it’s okay"…

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There are two possible situations:

  1. A person is not wearing a mask: It happened to me once before that I entered a grocery store and simply forgot to put on a mask until I already had some items in my basket. The store was pretty much empty, so lucky for me no one noticed. Since I always carry the mask on my person, I could quickly remedy that situation and if someone had noticed it and said "Hey, you forgot your mask" I'd have apologized and fixed it. So if a person is not wearing a mask, a simple "Didn't you forget something?" while pointing at your face might fix the situation. It might also be intentional, in which case you're then in an argument about the efficiency of masks.

  2. A person is wearing a mask improperly: Those people know what they are doing and they are doing it intentionally. They might have excuses, to themselves and others, on why they are doing it but they still know they are in the wrong. Anything you say to them will put them on the defensive and will lead to arguments.
    You can't make them change without "making a scene," unless you are a person of authority in that situation (store staff, police). It's generally not advisable to argue with them, but you might be able to notify store staff about the problem. The staff won't be happy about it though, because they usually aren't paid enough to get into arguments with customers.
    In essence, all you can do about it is social shaming. If they happen to look in your direction, pointedly adjust your mask on your nose while glaring at them and taking a step back. It won't do anything, but at least you might feel better and maybe they'll feel guilty for a short time.

In summary, as annoying as it is, if you are not a person of authority for the location, you're probably not going to be able to change it without getting into a heated argument. Personally, I've resolved to angrily glaring at them.

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  • "pointedly adjust your mask on your nose" - shouldn't you minimize the number of occasions where you adjust/touch the mask in any way once you're wearing it? Aug 19 '20 at 9:35
  • In my local store, it's the store staff (and also the store staff handling food) wearing it incorrectly..
    – guest
    Sep 21 '20 at 11:27
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Be content with your efforts to protect yourself. Know that you are doing everything you can to prevent the spread of Covid. And let everyone else manage themselves how they see fit.

I'm right!

I've been wearing a mask since before they were mandated in the place where I live. My first mask was a neck gaiter. The material was very thin. I wore it high on my head so that only my eyes were exposed.

I'm certain people looked at me and saw a scared mouse. It was early days and lock downs hadn't been enforced yet.

Since then, I've experimented with a variety of cloth face masks.

Now, I finally have a mask that makes me feel my Covid game is tight. It ties on top of my head and behind my ears. None of the material rests on my ears. I don't get too hot. And I use a nose guard to keep my glasses from fogging up.

Yes, I'm a stickler for detail. And that's a good thing.

They're wrong!

But, what I do have to be careful about is noticing other people, "Getting it wrong!".

After a couple of months, I've finally worked out that their mask is not my problem. (Not talking about your kids or people you are personally responsible for).

People who step towards me bare-faced or wearing a mask under their chin or below their nose receive the same treatment. I take a large step back. And I sometimes say, "Six feet!"

I live in a hot spot for Covid cases which means my bubble of personal space is larger than it was. When a stranger wants to step in too close, encroaching on my space, my tone is not as polite as it used to be when all this started.

By this point, some people have been playing the Covid precautions game and others haven't. The short answer is, please be patient with our fellow citizens who are just getting started.

Keep your distance and let them work it out for themselves.

People still smoke even though they know the consequences.

People still wonder how they got pregnant even though contraception is available.

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    While smoking and not using contraceptions affects the people doing it, not wearing a mask endangers also those that wear a mask. Apart from this, reading your answer from a US perspective, feels appropriate (socially) and inappropriate (extend of pandemic in the US) at the same time to what we see in the news over here in Europe.
    – hintze
    Jul 23 '20 at 5:06
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    re-reading my comment, I would like to edit it, but can't. I hope it doesn't send the wrong message. I wanted to point out differences in US and European perspectives, and didn't mean to imply any judgement on your behavior as described in your answer. I bet that other geographical regions have yet another view to share.
    – hintze
    Jul 23 '20 at 5:51
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    @hintze - The point of the smoking and contraception comparisons wasn't "these also affect other people" (although smoking does - second-hand smoke kills, too), it's that people should know how to take proper precautions, but they don't, even for things that have been around a lot longer than covid and they've grown up knowing both the hazards and what to do about them. Jul 23 '20 at 8:30
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    @DaveSherohman - Sure. Here you and the answer are right. But while it is true that humans often exhibit risky behavior despite they should know better, it makes a difference in how to approach others if one observes such behavior. If the risk is personally on someone behaving that way, I think leaving them alone is most appropriate in most situations (it depends oc). But what if, e.g., someone dumps toxic waste into the woods? This does affect everyone, so just leaving the offender alone is not considered appropriate by many.
    – hintze
    Jul 23 '20 at 9:20
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    Thank you for your response. I'm not rude to people, but I am assertive with people who are casual about wearing a mask. The point of my answer (thank you to @Dave S. for your clarification) is to say that I don't have the time or energy to monitor people's mask wearing behavior. Some people get it wrong on purpose. And they sometimes approach as if they are "itching for a fight". It's best to ignore them. Jul 23 '20 at 16:05
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Like others already said, telling them to wear mask properly often lead to arguments or even a fight.

Since I'm very annoyed by those people too, I tried different ways. The best one so far was to look at them until they look at you too and then I simply point with my finger on my mask.
Some react with putting up their mask correctly, other just got out of my view and still didn't wear it right but no one started an argument yet. I think this is because I didn't use words but could be just luck too.

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