Interacting with a stranger in public who’s not following recommendations to wear a mask around others can be awkward. While your initial reaction may be fear or anger, don’t let those emotions dictate your response.
Rather, take a cue from etiquette experts who say keeping others’ feelings at the forefront is the best way to navigate difficult situations.
“It’s easy to go to a place of desperation and fear when you see someone not wearing a mask or going against the recommendations,” etiquette author Lizzie Post told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our brains can want to punish or shame people who aren’t following the rules. That never gets people on your side. The thing you can do is control yourself and do everything you can to protect yourself.”
Leading by example is the best course of action, agrees Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.
“Wear a face covering whenever you are around others in public and can’t practice social distancing,” he says. “Doing so sends a visual signal that you understand the importance of healthy behaviors and can ultimately encourage others to join you.”
When it happens
However, you may find yourself standing next to an unmasked stranger in the the grocery store, post office or while picking up dinner from a restaurant. If you feel comfortable, you can ask the person to take a few steps away, but be sure to phrase your request so it is mutually beneficial. For example, “For the safety of each of us, could you please stand a little further away?”
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Keep in mind that your tone and facial expression make a big difference in how others perceive your request, so try to be friendly and warm.
Ultimately, the best option may be to simply get out of line and wait for the person to move along.
Here are some other ways to stay safe and avoid difficult or awkward situations over masking:
- Go down a different aisle to reach your destination in a store.
- Cross to a different side of the street.
- Pick a gas pump where no one is standing on the other side.
- Use drive-throughs at banks and restaurants.
- Opt for curbside pickup at restaurants and stores.
- Eat at restaurants that offer outdoor seating.
“We’re still learning about COVID-19 and how it spreads,” Dr. Harmon says. “What we do know is that wearing face masks has been shown to limit its spread. It’s important for everyone to wear one in public settings when social distancing is difficult.”
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Vice President of Medical Affairs and Family Medicine Physician
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.Learn More
Medical University of South Carolina
U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital
American Board of Family Medicine
Meet the Expert
Dr. Gerald Harmon
Dr. Gerald Harmon, who has cared for patients in our region for more than 35 years, is a family medicine physician and vice president of medical affairs at Tidelands Health.