Understanding the Language of COVID Mask Culture


Mona Lisa In Mask-jpg.comA protective face mask is not always just a protective face mask. Recently walking through the neighborhood early in the morning, passing by a 30s-ish man on the other side of the street, who was not wearing a mask, earned a simple yet polite palms-up wave. The familiar cotton snouted cover on my face was obvious. Yet, the nonverbal communication suggested humble pleasantries. Nevertheless, as COVID masks go, things are not always what they seem.

Wearing a personal protective face covering in public, even the most nondescript, can still provoke a glance. More to the point, being able to read COVID mask language can be useful going forth in the new reality, at least for now. Just the way body language and facial expressions can be revealing the same applies to COVID masks. After the usual morning walk-run and back, returning to the front door, a woman approaching on the sidewalk casually smiled while reaching for a protective mask. My simple familiar version was already in place. She held up a brief hand gesture of comradery before crossing the street. Feeling good, I smiled, sadly though, no one could see through the face covering. As for being a trigger point, later that morning, Yahoo News published a story about someone in a different part of the country who went into a tirade because somebody else was not wearing a mask at the local grocery store. The incident led to an arrest. Similar unscripted but visceral happenings have been recorded and published everywhere and all throughout the summer.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regarding current protective face coverings, “Masks are used by the general public and health care personnel to prevent the spread of infection or illness.” That is the hands-on POV. Then there are the COVID masks which lend an opportunity of humor to monotonous social messaging, including Tina Fey’s face covering on the recent 30 Rock Reunion teaser. The clever covering on Fey’s character has the comic entertainer frozen in a funny but rebuking yell. This time the communication goes beyond nonverbal. In addition to lifting heavy hearts with levity, for the fashion conscious, Banana Republic, Etsy and even Old Navy, just to name three, have a variety of ultra-trendy COVID mask options. It was probably just a matter of time before comedy, fashion and business joined forces in the demand for masks.

Not surprising, especially during an election year, personal face protection seems to have also taken on a serious bipartisan feel with one side sticking to wearing masks and the other often eschewing the same tendencies. Public health appears to be overlooked in the messaging. Meanwhile, Googling Corona or COVID Virus masks serves up assorted memes, cartoons, clipart images and plenty more. The possibilities are endless. Still feeling the general effects of the pandemic at large, perhaps with some contemporary cynicism, the notable noirish 1951 movie, Ace In The Hole, starring Kirk Douglas as a jaded newspaper reporter, comes to mind. Connecting the dots is not exact, yet, during the film, a local vendor selling souvenirs outside the ongoing emergency, all with a man trapped inside a collapsed mine, conveys a similar sentiment, losing sight of the bigger picture.

Adaptability is commendable and a sure sign of survival. But the sooner COVID is gone the better.

Photo: Yaroslav Danylchenko


Paul Wolfle is the publisher of musicinterviewmagazine.com and a web-based journalist who has written for several popular sites. Paul has a passion for connecting with a diversity of people who are looking to grow a positive presence on the World Wide Web.

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