Service of How to Speak Up–or Should We?

June 29th, 2020

Categories: Health, Mask, Speak Up


I didn’t say a word when years ago a man lit a cigarette in the subway as the train headed into the tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan. I thought about asking him politely not to smoke and wondered “What if the train stopped for an extended period and the little air we share in the car is poisoned by his smoke?” I was afraid he’d attack me and I’d have nowhere to run and escape.

Today it’s about masks. I wrote about them on May 14th in “Service of Symbols III.” Since then NY Governor Cuomo had a contest for the best video to promote their use and immunologist Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and other authorities repeatedly tout their impact on slowing down the spread of Covid-19.

Nothing seems to drive home their purpose with some. A New York Times article by Margot Sanger-Katz “On Coronavirus, Americans Still Trust the Experts” explains what’s going on. She reported: “In the Times survey, 84 percent of voters said they trusted medical scientists to provide reliable information about the virus, with 90 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans trusting the experts. Overall trust in the C.D.C. was 77 percent — 71 percent among Republicans and 83 percent among Democrats.”


Gregory A. Poland, MD told the audience on a WOR 710 NY radio program last week that a man yelled at him for wearing a mask when he was out walking with his wife. Poland knows more than most about why he wears one. He is director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group and editor-in-chief of the medical journal Vaccine. He didn’t engage the aggressor who didn’t know who he was harassing.

Most stores post signs asking visitors to wear masks but there are no laws about it. It’s up to the retail staff–even youngsters with summer jobs–to reprimand and confront potential customers and ask the mask-less to return with a mask on.

A friend who owns a business in the suburbs said a man came inside last week, stopped, said, “Oh my–I forgot my mask in the car,” raced out and returned. That can happen.

Often the omission is aggressive and deliberate. A NYC radio talk show host boasted that he’s deep-sixed his mask and nevertheless enters the small shops in his Manhattan neighborhood and nobody stops him. He’s tired of wearing one. He’s not alone. It’s not enough that these people imperil the health of others, I’ve read that some punch mask-wearers.


Anecdotal information from friends who live in or are visiting New England tourist destinations report streets crowded with vacationers gleeful to be freed from sheltering at home. Many left behind their facial protection and social distancing awareness. Shops with seasonal business that are starved for sales employ staff who, like most sane people, are fearful of getting sick. They are especially stressed when potential customers pass right by mask signs and enter with exposed nose and mouth.

Does a business that wants to protect its staff need to hire a six foot 200 pound guard? If you worked in a restaurant, shop, hair styling salon, barbershop or any business that welcomes outsiders how would you ask patrons to put on a mask or would you grin and bear it?

Would a request to put on a mask on a recording in well recognized, respected voices that employees could easily and invisibly engage when someone enters without a mask help avoid confrontation?

If you are a customer trapped in an establishment and someone enters without a mask, do you speak up? What do you say?



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14 Responses to “Service of How to Speak Up–or Should We?”

  1. BC Said:

    Yes. By all means, speak up! A mask is one of our few defenses.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I know it is the right thing to do but some people are aggressive about not wearing a mask and might blow and even attack if approached.

    You might get away with “Sir/Madam–here’s a mask I see you forgot to wear yours” and remember to bring extras with you. But I admit I’d probably hotfoot it out of the place instead.

  3. Helen Rabinovitz Said:

    I read a story on line about a month ago about a Costco customer who wouldn’t wear a mask. The store has signs posted even before you walk in requiring masks. Thanks to phones that record…he was in line ready to check out when the manager approached him and told him he had to wear a mask. Customer began yelling at him, refusing! Civil rights and blah blah blah. The manager took away his cart and he was escorted out of the store. Hopefully never to return again! My only question is….how’d he get inside in the first place? You have to show your Costco card to a person at the entrance to get inside. Oh well.

  4. Hank Goldman Said:

    I have heard of swimming pools being closed because a few selfish, ignorant people decided not to wear masks — which has become a usual rule when you are not actually in the pool. Social distance, as well as wear a mask has become the rule there. So one person can make others suffer in that case.

    People I have seen interviewed on the news shows, mostly younger, but not exclusively younger, seem to all want to stand on their first amendment Rights to gather freely and not be forced to wear masks. While we still have that in effect— no one is trying to take anything away. Quite the contrary. The mask rule is to help your fellow man as well as yourself get rid of this insidious disease.

    The inoculations, when they come, will help, but in the meanwhile, it’s up to all of us to help mitigate the spread by doing such a simple thing, Not intrusive for so many, just wear a mask!

    Simple, right? You would think so. Think of others first. Give Up a teensy weensy bit of your freedom to Not show off your new shade of lipstick.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right: How did the person enter to begin with but each store may be different and maybe at some you need to show your card only at checkout.

    In any case, good for the manager who escorted out this selfish person. He endangered himself–all that spit from the angry shouting customer landing all over him no doubt.

    Here comes a sexist reaction: What happens to the store that is owned and staffed by women who might be intimidated by a stronger, bigger, younger angry person?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    In past posts I’ve covered the impact of selfish people and we’ve all worked in offices or had relatives who exhibit such traits. Anecdotally it might just seem like there are more “ME ME ME” people. I found two off the bat, “Service of Selfish Redux,” and “Service of Because They Can But Maybe They Shouldn’t,”

    Unfortunately too many are wired to think only of themselves. Tell them they are protecting others and they think “why should I? What’s in it for ME?” They hide behind freedom but they resent feeling sticky and hot behind a mask and/or being told what to do.

    OR they think they are showing support for DJT. Even VP Pence has supported the wearing of masks which will hopefully resonate with some.

  7. Martha Takayama Said:

    What to do about wearing a mask and other etiquette or behavioral guidelines for Covids present individuals and businesses with unwelcome dilemmas that seem superficial and silly in view of the ravages of this disease. They also should be avoidable, but….

    The abject lack of leadership, direction, rules and. regulations (based on science, common sense and common courtesy) accompanied by fines and other deterrents emanate from the national government. That really means enforcement of the wearing of a mask can vary according to the rules imposed by lower tiers of government.

    Stores can only insist on the wearing of masks if the failure to do so is punishable by law, and that is often not the case. A pharmacy told me that they could not prevent an individual from purchasing their medicine even while ignoring the town’s “guidelines” that a mask should be worn.

    Workers in any elective retail and service establishment such as a restaurant, shop, hair styling salon, barbershop should be met with a sign requiring the wearing of a mask. Masks could be offered prior to entry. and refusal to wear one should prevent entry. Infection and mortality should not be the cost of doing such business.

    If you are trapped in an establishment when someone enters without a mask you should immediately register a complaint to the management . The idea of instruction by a recording is excellent. It also alleviates the burden at least temporarily of an individual employee having to deal with the issue.

    I have been advised repeatedly by an epidemiologist friend that the incredibly high level of stress the Corona virus and the quarantine have subjected people to make it advisable to not challenge people directly on the street, in passing or even in stores about their lack of a mask, because of the potential of hostile or even violent reactions.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m glad you like my recording idea. Your epidemiologist friend who knows, and I who only intuit potentially explosive reactions, come out at the same place: Danger/take care before confronting someone who knows how to behave, isn’t and may have a giant chip on her/his shoulder.

    The husband of the owner of the salon where I get my hair cut was opening the locked door the other day. He had the “don’t mess with me” aura of a tall, robust man. I’d never before seen him there. Nobody would have dared walk past him without a mask, without having their temperature taken and their hands spritzed with disinfectant. He had to turn away a potential patron who did not have an appointment. She didn’t argue.

    Even if there were laws about wearing masks–which would help–we cannot expect staff in a business to uphold them–not in the present mood.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    The mask question is moot, since one is not allowed in local stores without one. There have been publicized outbursts — like spitting at people, yelling and screaming, but they have been rare. In short, I haven’t the faintest idea of what I would do, unless an incident materializes under my nose. Hopefully my fellow shoppers will find better things to do, so that I (and fellow citizens) may carry on in peace.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What inspired me to write about this subject again was something a friend shared about the stress one of her relatives felt. She lives in a part of the country that attracts summer tourists and as I wrote in the post, many visiting in this location by the sea have thrown sense–masks and social distancing–to the wind. The person works in a store and there are appropriate signs. But people ignore them.

    So the issue is relevant to her and to those who work at the shops the arrogant talk show host boasts about visiting without a mask.

    I’m relieved that you haven’t come across this. Staff counts customers at Trader Joe’s and as there are several at the door and many robust young ones below–they could gang up should anyone make a fuss. I’m on the lookout at other stores and like Martha’s idea of finding the manager to handle it. The language is often fuzzy, however, such as “be thoughtful of the other shoppers and please wear a mask.” It is not a law in New York.

  11. MarthaTakayama Said:

    This may seem beside the point or irrelevant to the wearing of masks or not, but,
    I am in shock to find out that in the midst of a mysterious pandemic which we can barely understand people are going to pools,. Additionally they want to be mask free, which means they must be immersing themselves completely. Sorry, but I can only shudder at the enormous selfishness of wanting to use a shared pool as well as the endless possibilities of contagious disease transmission

  12. Helen Rabinovitz Said:

    I carry extra masks and hand sanitizer wipes in my pocketbook. However and maybe I’m just lucky but so far the stores I shop in are filled with customers wearing masks! Actually makes me proud. However just talked to a friend who told a man who wasn’t wearing a mask that he should put one on. Linda’s 72 and not in perfect health but very outspoken. He stood and screamed at her. Sadly no one intervened. Luckily that’s all he did was scream but it’s scary. You’re absolutely right it’s best left to management and maybe a guard.

  13. jmbyington Said:


    Sun is healthy, chlorine kills the virus, exercise is essential and social distancing possible. Short of driving alone in your car or sitting in your back yard it may be one of the safest things you can do.

  14. jmbyington Said:


    Some love an argument but if not your friend took a chance! Sad.

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