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The culture of social distancing and wearing face masks

  • by JW

Will the ‘normal’ slower pace of life in Sidmouth, the older population, and the lack of sandy beaches mean that the town and its hinterland will be a little less frenzied than other parts?


The streets of Sidmouth are very narrow in places – so safeguards are being brought in to make shopping down the high street safer:

Strategies to open up Sidmouth: new safeguards – Vision Group for Sidmouth


As part of these efforts, the Town Council and Chamber asked traders if they felt face masks should be worn by shoppers:

“The ‘norm’ to wear a mask when in a confined space such as a shop or office seems a prudent way of pre-empting what may become mandatory whilst at the same time helping to reassure both employees, residents and visitors. The message to customers should be that the mask is there to protect the person in the shop or office, rather than the wearer.”

Strategies to open up Sidmouth: protecting shoppers and workers – Vision Group for Sidmouth


It is understood that the response was quite low, so there will not be an ‘official policy’ to encourage the wearing of face masks as such.


Nevertheless, looking at the video of lockdown in Sidmouth by photographer Kyle Baker, many if not most of the folk queuing outside shops are wearing masks:

Locked Down in a Small Seaside Town: a film from Sidmouth – Vision Group for Sidmouth


The question is whether Sidmouth is particularly vulnerable to the easing of lockdown:

“Or will the ‘normal’ slower pace of life, the older population, and the lack of sandy beaches mean that the town and its hinterland will be a little less frenzied than other parts?”

Easing lockdown in Sidmouth – Vision Group for Sidmouth


Because the South-West is finding it difficult to cope with visitor numbers:

Teignbridge beach covered in litter during lockdown heatwave |


The more general question, then, is why people don’t observe 2 metres social distancing or wearing face masks…


The nonchalant male is statistically more likely to catch Covid-19:

Bonnie Greer on Twitter: “This wk’s @TheNewEuropean-In which I ask, why #men (as a demographic) tend to indulge,in this #pandemic, in what is medically called:”risky behaviour.” Like not wearing #facemasks. This is bad. If you’re a guy, you’re more likely to die from #coronavirus” / Twitter


It seems to be a question of attitude:


Risk taking may play a role

Male behavior during the pandemic also could be increasing their exposure to the novel coronavirus.

Gallup poll taken between March 2 and 13 found that women were more concerned about COVID-19 than men were (by a 62 to 58 percent margin).

“It’s possible that men are more at risk because they tend to expose themselves more to larger crowds and social exchanges, including things like handshaking and sporting events,” said Dr. Stephen Berger, an infectious disease expert and co-founder of the Global Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Network (GIDEON). 

“There are men with invincibility syndrome that underpins a lot of behaviors, and they tend to be less compliant” with pandemic-related restrictions such as physical distancing, said Salvatore J. Giorgianni, PharmD, a pharmacist and senior science advisor for the Men’s Health Network. For other men, he said, the issue isn’t so much a cavalier attitude as simply being conditioned “to think of health as ‘not their job.’”

COVID-19 prevention messages aimed at men should focus on these traditional male roles, “not ignore millions of year of biology and natural selection,” Giorgianni said.  “Guys are very concerned for their families, so tell them don’t do it for yourself, do it for those who love you,” he said. “Even if they feel like they’re in good shape and can fight it off, they can still be a carrier can cause the death of their spouse or daughter or their dad.”

Derek M. Griffith, PhD, director of the Institute for Research on Men’s Health at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee cautioned, however, that much remains unknown about COVID-19, including its different impact on men and women. “It’s worth considering these factors, but it’s a little premature,” he said. “Most of these statements seem to assume we know more about this disease than we do.”

Why COVID-19 Is Hitting Men Harder Than Women |


And in the United States, it’s very much a question of identity and ideology:


Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Spitting on Other People

The culture wars around the coronavirus pandemic center on conflicting ideas of freedom, revealing an utter lack of national common cause.

Late last week, a video compilation started making the rounds, showing customers in public places of business—Costco, Walmart, a Red Lobster—refusing to wear masks or to observe social distancing, and, when called out on their negligence, demonstratively coughing and even spitting on the mostly low-wage employees who were trying to enforce basic safety guidelines. These are the images of the current culture war, fought and framed, like other American culture wars, around conflicting ideas of freedom. “I woke up in a free country,” a disgruntled Costco customer says. “What freedom is being sacrificed by wearing a mask?” a Twitter user asks. “The freedom to not wear a fucking mask,” another responds

Wearing a mask can be seen as an act of positive freedom: the choice of a conscious member of society. It is difficult to consider enforced mask-wearing as a form of unfreedom, for even the individual-liberty fundamentalism of John Stuart Mill drew a line at actions that can harm others—one person’s freedom can end where another’s safety begins. To claim that being compelled to wear a mask is a violation of one’s liberty is to reject either the premise that wearing one can protect others or the humanity of those who are being endangered. Anti-lockdown protesters and mask resisters routinely misrepresent or misinterpret the risks of coronavirus transmission. When they cough and spit on others, they dehumanize those who might dare to tell them what to do.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Spitting on Other People | The New Yorker


We don’t seem to be quite there in the UK, but it is clear that these habits are cultural…


Whether over wearing face masks:

Coronavirus: Why some countries wear face masks and others don’t – BBC News

Cultures clash over wearing masks amid virus – The Globe and Mail

The Globe | Masks or Not: the Cultural Differences Between the West and East

Coronavirus: Masks reveal racism, cultural differences and gov’t incompetence | Hong Kong Free Press HKFP

Protective masks: A new culture in Germany | Lifestyle | DW | 01.05.2020


Or social distancing:

The Social-Distancing Culture War Has Begun – The Atlantic

‘Coronavirus culture war’? Shedding light on the role of political beliefs in social distancing | SIEPR

Coronavirus: Western countries bad at social distancing without force – Business Insider

Coronavirus: Sweden, Italy Far Apart in Social Distancing Race – Bloomberg

India Struggles to Maintain Social Distancing Amid Coronavirus Pandemic | Best Countries | US News

Social distancing puts Africa’s norms to the test |

How do collective and individualistic societies respond to the challenge of social distancing orders? – Birmingham Business School Blog