Young men refusing to wear a mask have to be faced down

They think they are immortal, but young men - and it is mostly young men - refusing to wear a mask in public spaces must be confronted, says Áilín Quinlan
Young men refusing to wear a mask have to be faced down

A protective face mask adorns a Jesus Christ statue as a reminder for residents to wear them in Caracas, Venezuela

FAR be it from me to re-ignite the sex wars.

But in all fairness, guys.

Each day since last Monday, I have made my usual daily visit to my local supermarket.

And each day, I, along with, I should point out, every other female customer in the shop and every staff member, have worn a face-mask.

Because, since July 20, as anyone who hasn’t been suspended upside down on their local beach with their head in the sand will know, anyone entering a shop has to wear a face-covering, as do staff working there, unless they are behind a screen. Even the staff in my local shop who are working behind a screen are wearing masks.

In fact on one occasion, when I realised on entering the shop that I had forgotten to put it on, I tramped, swearing, back out to the car to get it and put it on.

Yet, each time I enter the shop, I see a parade of males in their twenties or thirties arriving through the doors, brazen-faced, brass-necked and mask-less. They will blithely pass the hand-sanitiser equipment at the door, walking into the store as if it’s life as normal, completely ignoring the fact that virtually every other customer and every single member of staff is wearing a mask.

Without as much as a blush, they queue up for their breakfast roll, get their coffee, tea or can of Red Bull, and then join another queue to pay.

And not a single person, neither customers nor staff nor owners, quiet mice that we all are, expresses as much as a syllable of protest.

I was diagnosed with late-onset asthma a year ago (most unfair, I thought at the time, as I don’t smoke and exercise daily, but apparently it’s in the family tree.)

However, I still wear a mask when I go into the shop. Like Dublin GP Dr Maitiu O’Tuathail, who took to Twitter this week to explain the non-impact of face masks and coverings on oxygen levels, I didn’t find that wearing a mask impeded my breathing. It’s just a bit uncomfortable and I whip it off as soon as I’m back out in the fresh air.

Well, anyway, in the shop car-park one morning, I suddenly got entirely sick of being a mouse.

As I watched two tall, strong, healthy and immensely cheerful twenty-something males exit their vehicle and stride into the supermarket, bypassing the hand sanitiser stand without as much as a glance and brushing past a much older man who actually was wearing a mask, I felt a wave of sheer irritation.

You can look up the psychology of teenagers and young twenty-somethings. They feel immortal. They don’t believe they can be injured or infected or die. This is why they are so risk-prone. This is why you have young fellas doing really stupid things like driving cars way outside the speed limits at eye-watering speeds and doing doughnuts on the roads, diving into swimming pools from hotel balconies several storeys up, or tearing down motorways on the wrong side of the road

We know all of this, and while it’s not an excuse it is a reason. Alas, though, the downside of this is they also more than likely never think about the fact that they can injure or infect someone else, or even cause the death of another.

As I collected my newspaper and walked through the aisles picking up my few bits, I passed this hearty duo, now lounging at the deli-counter waiting for their orders, talking and laughing loudly and of course, in the meantime expelling millions of potentially infectious droplets into the air.

“Excuse me,” I said calmly. They turned around. “You’re supposed to be wearing a mask. It’s mandatory.”

They had the grace to look a bit abashed. “Eh, yeah, I know,” said one apologetically. The other guy said nothing. And then they looked away again and I moved on. In other words, that was it, basically.

So yes, they knew they were supposed to be wearing them, the idea being to protect others. But, er, what they were too polite to say was they didn’t care and couldn’t be bothered.

And if this is happening regularly in my local shop, it’s happening in plenty of shops.

You can’t blame shop-owners or their staff for not taking on these young men about their callous and careless behaviour, but somebody needs to.

How can anyone be that oblivious to the risk they’re potentially posing to the health of other people? Especially now, that after so much to-ing and fro-ing, the government has made it mandatory? Especially now that cases of Covid-19 are on the rise, day by day?

The aforementioned GP, Dr O’Tuathail, has warned that he’s seen a worrying rise in the number of people requesting Covid-19 tests. Sharing a screenshot on Twitter of a request log where every line was related to Covid-19 testing, he warned that it was “starting to feel like March 2020 all over again”.

He was, he reported, “getting an alarming increase in requests for Covid testing, and it’s trending upwards. My day so far has been all Covid-related — for the first time in weeks.”

This in the context of recent figures which, according to acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn, mean that workplaces — such as shops, because shops, remember, are most definitely workplaces and not just, say, building sites or creches — are the new “frontline” of the war against the virus, with clusters of Covid emerging in recent days.

Ireland, says Dr Glynn, cannot rule out a second lockdown just yet.

So, em, in this context, if we have a significant problem with young males refusing to wear masks in shops, possibly because they think it’s unmanly, uncool, or just plain embarrassing, we need to confront them and deal with it.

We can’t realistically expect young shop assistants to deal with this problem, can we?

Put it more bluntly — are we seriously going to leave this emerging public health threat to shop-keepers?

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