On face masks.

I have an opinion on face masks, and I will probably get shouted at about it, in fact the last time I even tried to have an opinion on Twitter I was accused of killing people, but I’m allowed it. I think Scotland have got it right in their announcement for communal areas. I don’t want to teach in a face mask, but I understand others might want to. We need to have a discussion, we need to find a balance.

I worry that face masks have taken over what are the important things to remember, washing hands, not touching faces, cleaning, social distancing etc. Why have we stopped talking about these things?

I don’t drive, so travel a lot on public transport. Recently, I have travelled on several trains for 3 hour stretches. I find it a very uncomfortable experience and by the time I get off the train I am desperate to get my mask off and get some air, and that’s without talking. I get headaches and according to my smart watch, have had a noticeable shifts upward in my heart rate when wearing them. Granted, I do have other personal reasons for not liking them, but I do. And I do follow the rules in all the places I need to, shops, trains, trams, taxis, shopping centres etc. I now own many, many face masks in an attempt to find the most comfortable (the pleated versions I prefer, if you’re interested.) But at the moment, I can control pretty much how much time I spend in one. I can decide to do a half hour shop, or plan my journey thinking about when I might be able to get a break. It is very different to having no choice for 6-7 hours a day, plus travel time to and from school.

But the most interesting thing is how people behave with a face mask. People think that they can forget about everything else; it provides a false sense of security. I’ve seen people constantly touching their faces adjusting their mask. I’ve seen people wiping their hands on train seats after eating and then putting their hands on their faces to put their mask back on. I’m not seeing much hand sanitising at all. And I have seen many people without masks at all, but unless they are in large groups, who am I to question why that might be?

Yesterday, as I was getting off the train people were pushing to get on, clearly thinking that face masks meant that social distancing didn’t matter. Ironically, there were plenty of seats in the train (I actually haven’t come across a busy train yet) so they didn’t need to. But it is very clear that this constant focus on face masks makes people feel that wearing one they are safe, whereas we really should all be aware that it is just an extra layer of protection.

I went to the hairdressers last week. My hairdresser was saying that the most frustrating thing about it all is that it is extremely difficult to communicate with the person they are working with and they have to be careful to make sure they are doing exactly as the client wants. She was saying that they are all hoping that it doesn’t have to go on for very long, as it is difficult to enjoy work, but I fear this might be much longer.

My son teaches in China. They don’t wear masks in the classroom, neither do the children because teaching English it is important that everyone can see faces. They instead have very strict cleanliness routines and temperature checks. There have been no cases since they re-opened. But we don’t hear much about the countries that don’t, only about the countries that do.

Many of our schools have students who are new to English, some have students who are hearing impaired. I heard a parent on the radio earlier saying that her Autistic son really doesn’t like people to be wearing masks. We have to think about how their needs are met too; it is essential in some cases that students can see faces, we have to find a way to work round that.

I have also seen people posting on social media with pride how they have confronted people not wearing masks in shops. It worries me that students with invisible illnesses, which are suddenly there for all to see because they unable to wear them, would be open to similar behaviour. As well as that, there will be students who feel incredibly anxious in a mask. It would need careful management. I’ve seen people with exemption cards…something about that makes me very uncomfortable, people having to carry cards or wearing things on their clothes to mark them out, never seems to go well…

I spoke to a friend who is a doctor in a hospital (she was happy for me to share.) She said this, and I have seen others tout a similar idea, which seems sensible to me.

We have to think about how to work this in the long run and possibly for up to 2 years at least. I agree that the government has not been clear and that is a whole other story, but we have to have a realistic attitude and not make snap decisions.

We have to balance those staff that are generally very worried with those who have reasons for being worried about having to cover their face for long periods.

Scotland seems to have gone a sensible way, corridors and communal areas at break and lunchtime. We could also stretch this to meetings, office spaces etc if it meant others felt safer. It should then be optional for those that want to to to be able to teach in them.

However, we must make sure that our young people are aware that wearing a mask is not an alternative to making sure they handwash regularly, that touching their face is still a problem in a mask. I was reading an article where it was explaining the fact that the eyes are important to remember as it can be caught through the eyes – who knew? Tired students rub their eyes – we all do. Listening to a scientist on the news today, a cough or sneeze behind a mask will still release droplets that land on surfaces and therefore regular cleaning is far more important.

What we need is conversation. And we really needed time to prepare. If face masks are made mandatory, then schools might need to provide them for some. Students wearing reusable ones will need to be aware that they would need washing pretty much every day. Students using the disposable ones must know that can’t wear it more than once. If visors are going to be acceptable when teaching then where do we get them from? Do we provide our own, in which case are there recommended stockists? And this needs to come from government first and boy, is it getting late to sort this.

But, let’s not be angry at each other. Let’s not think that face masks are the thing that lead to a Covid free world, because they really won’t, they just provide an extra layer of possible protection. We have to just have conversations that are sensible and rational and not based on fear and panic; we are in this situation for a very long time.

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