It’s hard to find a news source that isn’t reporting about the coronavirus at the moment. Despite the fact that death and infection rates are fairly low (nearly 500 deaths at the time of this writing, compared to the 60,000 who died from the flu last year), fears over this disease are leading to a global shortage on face masks.
In many places right now, wearing a mask is considered a requirement. Even if the State isn’t enforcing it as law, there’s enough social pressure for people to feel like they must comply by wearing a mask out of respect of others.
This, of course, seems a bit absurd especially since face masks are considered ineffective and are not recommended by disease prevention specialists for a number of reasons. For this, The Center for Disease Control strongly advises against using them and states that most people wear them incorrectly anyway. In fact, there is no evidence that supports their usage, especially since regularly washing hands and safe food preparation practices prevent far more disease than anything else.
But that isn’t the point is it?
People aren’t buying the mask for prevention of a disease per say. They are buying it to have a sense of security, that they can actively do something in the face of a crisis that they have no understanding or control over. With the same logic that a person might approach buying lottery tickets (I can’t win if I don’t play so I might as well try!), each individual contributes slightly to mass hysteria over a fairly non-threatening disease – so much so, that auctions of specialty masks are skyrocketing. In doing so, they’re creating a shortage for professional medical workers that actually need the masks for doing their job in addressing diseases to begin with – and ironically, contributing to the spread of more unknown diseases.
We often do things against our own interest in order to play towards these short term feelings. But the first step in locking down a rachet of fear is recognizing what the ultimate goal is. The second is taking a hard look at our mask, having the courage to step away from the herd and remove that mask, and then to focus on solutions.
Whether it is the coronavirus any other social problem, we should all be thinking, Does this action really help solve the problem or is it only making it worse (even if it makes me feel better in the process)?