Altruism, Individualism, and the Science and Psychology of Mask Wearing

Amanda Eagleson
7 min readAug 18, 2020

Recently it was announced that masks will be mandatory on Metro Vancouver’s public transit system. This is one policy, among a growing list since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, making masks compulsory in countries or metropolitan areas.

Currently, masks are required on public transit throughout Colombia, Argentina, Germany, and South Korea. Many countries have, at some point, made masks mandatory in any public space, and the list is varied, from the United Arab Emirates to Ecuador, from Austria to Morocco, El Salvador to Israel.

In the United States, though there is no federal requirement, 32 States plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico all have some sort of mask requirements as of the publication of this article.

Some countries adopted mask-wearing much earlier than others with little controversy or even official communication. While others still have small but vocal groups pushing back at the science, legislation, and apparent symbolism of masks.

Why is this? To get a full picture, we should acknowledge the early lack of agreement among scientists, as well as examine the cultural and psychological factors at play for those pushing back against mask-wearing.

The Science

The word that we got was that we were struggling to make sure we get personal protective equipment, including masks, for the health care workers, so the initial recommendation was: Don’t put masks on, because we’re going to be taking them away from health care workers. That understandably got interpreted as we didn’t think masks were of any benefit.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The concern over the availability of PPE for health care workers was reiterated many times, especially in the United States. But it is perhaps understating the mixed messaging at the start of the pandemic to imply this is the cause of public confusion regarding masks.

Traveling in Aerosols

Within the U.S., experts assembled to consult on the pandemic did not include aerosol scientists. And it was aerosol researchers who were sounding the alarm about…

Amanda Eagleson

Poet, Writer at Optimistic Learner and Digital Economy Forum. Board member at Vancouver Poetry House.