They're Coming for Your Mask: A Survey on Discrimination

The fears are real.

They're Coming for Your Mask: A Survey on Discrimination
Photo by Frank Zhang on Unsplash

It's already happening.

When the state of North Carolina first proposed a mask ban this year, advocates from across the country warned lawmakers that it would embolden anti-maskers and lead to a surge in harassment and assault. Days after it passed, a woman with stage 4 cancer was assaulted by a man for wearing a mask. He told her wearing a mask was illegal. When she tried to explain her medical condition, he cussed her out and then started coughing on her.

He told her he hoped she died.

At a Chicago airport, an infectious disease expert was denied service at a restaurant for trying to enter with a mask. When she asked why, the staff simply repeated, "It's the policy."

She was told to leave.

There's one point continually missed by mainstream coverage of the North Carolina mask ban. Politicians keep saying nothing has changed, but they're lying. Under the new law, anyone who considers themselves an "occupant of public property" can demand someone remove their mask for identification. In the bill's exact words, anyone wearing a mask for health reasons "shall remove the mask upon request by a law enforcement officer or temporarily remove the mask upon request by the owner or occupant of public or private property where the wearer is present to allow for identification of the wearer."

This intentionally vague language allows virtually anyone to take it upon themselves to "request" someone "temporarily" remove their mask for identification. If they don't, they're breaking the law and they can be arrested, even charged with a felony. Maybe that sounds like a compromise to someone who doesn't understand viral transmission.

It's not a compromise at all.

Any mask ban threatens public health

Advocates of mask bans routinely say they simply want to restore the status quo laws that existed before the pandemic. It's a nonsense argument that ignores current reality. Not only is Covid itself still driving a mass disabling event, but other diseases are resurging. Then there's the likelihood of a flu pandemic. It's never been a better time to wear a mask.

Peak viral exposure happens within five seconds of a personal encounter. In other words, there's no point during a conversation when you're safe. You're in danger the instant someone opens their mouth and starts talking. That's why anyone who cares about their health needs to keep their mask on. It has nothing to do with hiding their identity. Making someone remove their mask, even for a few seconds, is sentencing them to chronic illness or death.

There's zero evidence that mask bans will reduce crime or violence. According to science, sunglasses do a better job of concealing your identity than an N95 respirator. Even our own intelligence agencies have said that wearing a mask doesn't impede facial recognition software.

So a mask ban does nothing but intimidate protestors, at the expense of threatening the rest of us and reinforcing an atmosphere of hostility and fear around masking. Nobody deserves to be harassed and assaulted just for wearing a mask, but that's what lawmakers are inflicting.

They have already killed people.

Mask bans are starting to proliferate.

In addition to North Carolina, New York has begun considering a similar mask ban. Chicago and L.A. are also trying to ban masks now. The major of L.A., Karen Bass, has said she's going to "examine" mask bans at protests, but we know these laws never exist in a vacuum. It's shameful that liberals, progressives, and Democrats have recently become the ones proposing and advocating for these bans, and they're doing it with no concern for who it impacts.

Mask discrimination has intensified as a direct result of anti-mask rhetoric coming from state and local officials across the political spectrum. People are being harassed, assaulted, and denied service even when they're clearly wearing medical masks for health reasons. They're being persecuted at work, at home, in healthcare settings, and even losing their jobs.

I've started a survey to collect information on these disturbing trends. With 700 responses so far, trends have already emerged.

Here's a look:

Mask wearers never get a break

Nearly half of the survey respondents say they've been harassed or physically threatened in public for wearing a mask. Strangers call them names, yell at them, or pretend to cough and sneeze on them.

Forms response chart. Question title: Have you ever been harassed or threatened in public for wearing a mask?
. Number of responses: 702 responses.

Here's what they describe:

Several men have spat or coughed on me for wearing a respirator, one man tried to start a fist-fight with my male friend because we were wearing respirators, and another man on a bicycle circled me and a friend while yelling at us and calling us "f**king idiots."
Being asked to speak louder as cant hear me under my mask. Coughing in my face. Blocking aisles at the grocery store and staring at me as I walk by. Shaking head and tssking as come into store with my masked family.
I was told I was not allowed to mask around customers anymore as the company didn’t like how it looked.
The receptionist at the doctor Im office said to me “no one should be masking covid is over. You should have been dead by now.” The harassment has increased ever since Fauci said people would “fall by the wayside.”

Mask wearers can't get service

Anti-mask rhetoric is converting into laws that push those who wear masks out of public spaces. Stores and other venues are increasingly denying service to anyone simply because they wear a mask.

Forms response chart. Question title: Has a business ever tried to deny you service because you were wearing a mask?
. Number of responses: 709 responses.

Here's what they describe:

I was told to take my business elsewhere, by three different establishments, when I was looking for covid cautious environment to get my haircut.
I kindly asked a dentist if they would consider wearing an n95 or ffp2 during my oral surgery. This resulted in them refusing to treat me.
I have had people cancel as a lyft driver bc i am wearing a mask. I have also had them leave negative reviews bc of my mask.

Nine percent may look like a small number, but many respondents say they already limit or restrict their time in public spaces because of mask harassment. They have to go out during specific times a day, or have groceries and services delivered to their homes, when they can afford it. Some mask wearers have given up on public life altogether, choosing to stay home except when absolutely necessary. Others have become chronically ill or disabled because of prior Covid infections, so they can't leave home.

Ironically, they're mocked for "living in fear."

As more cities and states move to pass total or partial mask bans, more businesses feel emboldened to deny service to anyone in a mask, often for no clear reason. They're finding it especially difficult to get dental, eye, or medical appointments without having to risk their health.

Mask wearers have lost family and friends

Those who mask often receive negative, judgmental, or condescending remarks from their friends or family. Nearly half of them report a friend or relative pressuring them to take off their mask.

Forms response chart. Question title: Has a friend or family member ever pressured you to take your mask off?
. Number of responses: 715 responses.

Here's what they describe:

Friends/Family think we’re paranoid, and have said so. They have refused masking in high risk situations including masking around my vulnerable mother. She eventually passed away after 2 covid infections and a heart attack. They also refused to mask at her memorial service.
A relative announced that "masks weren't allowed" at her place, so my husband said we would go home. She relented. Another relative has passive-aggressively described continued masking as "weird."
A friend who is 5 years behind on COVID-19 science repeatedly called me "hysterical" and other names for wearing a high-quality respirator. The friendship was no longer a safe space and I was experiencing sanctuary/betrayal trauama, so I ended the friendship. No regrets. Since then, I have made new and better friends.
Not me, but my daughter, 11, masks in school. Many kids have told her covid is over, made fun of her, touched her mask etc, tried to get her to shut the window in class.
I had a relative (by marriage) who's an ICU recovery nurse of all things tell me that COVID was no longer an issue, and that I needed to get back to normal. She also pressured my young son to remove his KF-94 respirator for a photo when I wasn't looking...
My husband has been harassing me about mask-wearing for several years and we are now in the process of getting divorced. He said that he can't live with my Covid mitigations. He refuses to be in the world with a mask and said he can't be married to me if it involves masks.
My child frequently has children grab his mask and try to remove it.

In many cases, a handful of traumatic encounters was enough to convince mask wearers to end friendships, to protect their physical and mental health. Their friendships threatened both. Some mask wearers have ended up estranged from their families, even their children. As one respondent said, she can only communicate with her daughter over video chat now because the rest of her family convinced her to stop wearing a mask under any circumstance. "It breaks my heart." In many cases, mask wearers seek out new friendships and form new communities. Not everyone can do that.

They try.

Mask wearers can't trust healthcare workers

Nearly half of those who mask report healthcare workers making negative, judgemental, or condescending remarks about masking. More than a third say they've been pressured to unmask.

Forms response chart. Question title: Has a healthcare worker ever pressured you to take your mask off?
. Number of responses: 721 responses.

Here's what they describe:

While hospitalized for 3 days in Dec 2023, the male day shift nurse came into my room and saw me wearing Flo Mask. He spent 15 minutes trying to convince me that masks and vaccines do not work. I asked him to leave and shut the door.
I had to go to an orthopedic urgent care clinic, affiliated with the orthopedic surgeons’s office, in December 2023 because I fractured my toe. The male physician assistant threw an actual man tantrum when I requested respectfully that he put a mask on for our brief visit in a tiny unventilated exam room. He became very agitated, started yelling that he didn’t have Covid, told me that Covid was over and what I was asking was unacceptable. This was actually during a viral surge. I relayed that I was immune compromised and was in an age group for a higher risk of adverse outcomes from Covid, but it wasn’t until I relayed that I was a longtime registered nurse that he finally grudgingly went out and put on a loose fitting surgical mask.
During a colonoscopy the anaesthetist demanded I remove my mask (allow I had checked before I could keep it on). I felt too vulnerable to refuse.
I have only had negative experiences with healthcare regarding mask wearing. Medical care is almost impossible to access now, and I have a disability.
2 nurses aids made of point of bragging about how they won't wear masks while I was wearing one during my appointments.
I only get medical care if there is written agreement they will N95. Even so the mammogram tech complained the whole time, the receptionist talked to their colleagues in front of me about how weird it feels to mask. My dentist stopped providing care.

Most often, healthcare workers make a point of telling mask wearers that they "don't need to wear a mask" anymore, or that it's only necessary to clean and disinfect surfaces. Some respondents reported healthcare workers trying to persuade their children to unmask during appointments, going against their wishes. Others say healthcare workers have tried to convince them that masks don't work, or that the pandemic is over.

It's bad enough that healthcare workers are either misinformed about masks or refuse to wear them when caring for patients. Mask wearers also have to endure pressure and ridicule from their own doctors and nurses.

"Do no harm," apparently doesn't apply.

Mask wearers have a hard time at work

Harassment extends to the workplace, with about 37 percent of respondents saying that coworkers made negative, judgmental, or condescending remarks about their masks. Nearly 25 percent said a coworker, client, or customer had actively pressured them to unmask.

Forms response chart. Question title: Has a coworker, client, or customer ever asked or pressured you to remove your mask?
. Number of responses: 675 responses.

Here's what they describe:

He came in once, positive with COVID. He immediately accused me of "freaking out" and that "he knew I'd be a problem"... He played the victim, he was told to go home and not come back until he tested negative. When he came back I got the usual lines of 'It was nothing' 'It's just a cold' 'The media has overblown everything' and that I was 'being paranoid'.
When seeing customers colleagues commented that I ‘scared’ them and told me it made the company ‘look bad’.
When working with a new team, a coworker told me to take off my mask so my boss could see my face.
They questioned my wearing a mask, became condescending and mocked me; colleagues joke "it's just a cold" knowing I was badly affected by the virus. I find it reprehensible being in NY and hearing this, especially from those who lost one or more relatives.
"You're babying your immune system by wearing that thing....You're healthy you don't need it."
A co-worker laughed at me while wearing a mask outside. He then raged about how masks are ineffective. He was stopped by a supervisor.
They'll make jokes about wanting to see my face or say that I'm a hypochondriac.

These coworkers often try to pass off their anti-mask comments as jokes or casual asides. Taken together, they make the workplace uncomfortable and unsafe. It sends a clear message that they would prefer mask wearers to "get back to normal," even when many of them have had serious infections and can't catch Covid again (or anything else). Mask wearers have to work in an environment of intentional disregard for their wellbeing. Some describe it as passive-aggressive, similar to the racism and sexism they also navigate.

Mask wearers risk losing their jobs

Many of those who mask live with varying degrees of anxiety about losing their jobs. They worry about the day a supervisor will make them choose between their health and their careers. The fears are real. In fact, more than 13 percent of respondents report a boss or supervisor pressuring them to unmask. Nearly 4 percent of respondents report being disciplined at work for wearing a mask. Some of them have lost their jobs. It should never happen at all.

Forms response chart. Question title: Has a boss or supervisor ever asked or pressured you to remove your mask?
. Number of responses: 677 responses.

Here's what they describe:

My boss, fully knowing he had Covid from a recent trip... called me into two separate long meetings with the door closed. Despite my wearing an N95 mask, I got Covid for the first time.
One hiring manager told me that they wouldn't want to hire a candidate who "still insisted on" wearing a mask & thought it was "crazy" to wear one outdoors when unable to socially distance.
I had a meeting with my boss and HR, and they said that I shouldn’t have taken this job. I finally got terminated 2 months later, even though my performance results were good.
Have been fired for wanting to use an air purifier at work...
I'm lucky in that so far I've mostly been able to "get away" with masking at work, but I can't mask while teaching and keep my job in the long term. (This is unwritten and unspoken, but almost certainly true.) If I had tenure, I'd mask in the classroom, but in my pre-tenure state, the best I can do is to stay in the stream of my air purifier and never step outside of it without holding my breath. In other words, the reason I've made it this far with my coworkers only expressing intermittent slight annoyance is that I haven't crossed the lines I know are there.
Supervisors told me that masked faces are “threatening” and “unwelcoming”
I discussed to my store manager that my mom got covid and i was worried... Within a couple of weeks, I was let go.
I have lost job opportunities because of my mask and it know it because they will mention it and ask if I have something or they'll make a point how they want people to see your "smile."
I can't even get a job as a masker let alone be fired from a job.
I was working on a PR job and my boss asked me if I intended on removing my mask anytime soon. He implied I had mental health problems. I got upset and took a day off after our conversation.
My husband was the only one masking and he was fired. The reason was not enough sales even though he sold plenty.
Employers refuse to hire my wife and I because we mask.

It's bad enough that these supervisors are disregarding safety. In many cases, they're exposing mask wearers to diseases while doing it. And yet, it's the mask wearers who are disciplined, not their bosses.

Workplaces skirt disability and discrimination lawsuits by citing other reasons for firing someone who wears a mask. Sometimes, they give no reason whatsoever. They often don't even have to explicitly fire a mask wearer. Many mask wearers have voluntarily resigned from their jobs, seeking out remote work and self-employment because their old workplaces refused to make accommodations or even upgrades to air quality. Others have simply had to leave the workforce altogether due to post-Covid conditions.

Many feel trapped.

Forced out of society

This survey highlights disturbing trends in societies that profess to practice equality and tolerance. Those who wear masks for their health encounter resistance and discrimination in virtually every aspect of their lives. They're losing friends and family, even relationships with their own children. They're being forced to give up jobs and careers.

They're also losing access to medical care.

Politicians and public officials don't talk about this discrimination because it's not politically expedient. They see masks themselves as a political liability, so they aren't going to talk about mask harassment. This kind of discrimination was happening before cities and states started stoking fears about masked criminals and associating masks with crime and moral vice. Now that mask bans are underway, it's going to get worse. More people will be forced out of society for trying to protect their health.

As Lucky Tran has pointed out, neoliberal think tanks have begun crafting model legislation for lawmakers who want to pass mask bans. This model legislation offers talking points that "someone who wears a mask for health reasons probably should not be congregating in large groups of people." In other words, you can't protect your health while participating in society. Roey Hadar explains the implications: "Sorry, fellow maskers. Apparently, this legislation thinks you shouldn't be attending a sporting event or a concert anymore, let alone a protest." As a sign of things to come, universities already started banning masks at their commencement ceremonies this year.

It's scapegoating, plain and simple.

There's one oversight in this survey that calls for a finer analysis. Many of those who report not being overtly disciplined or fired from work also report working from home or giving up their careers entirely because of Covid or the harassment they faced. They have limited employment options. Others report difficulties even finding a job where they'll be allowed to mask. That indicates the problem is even worse, something the next update will explore.

Here's the bottom line:

Even before official mask bans, unspoken policies and a general culture of hostility pushed many of us who wear masks out of society. We don't participate because we don't feel safe or welcome, or we physically can't. This problem goes unrecognized and underreported in a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Four years ago, liberals accused conservatives of politicizing masks. Now liberals are doing it, to the very people who elected them. Even worse, they're doing it as a range of other diseases, including Covid and now bird flu, make it more important than ever to wear a good medical mask.

We're often told that when we're presented with uncomfortable truths, we should resist the urge to tone police and make excuses. Mask wearers are trying to tell their friends, their families, their coworkers, and their bosses that they're unsafe and unheard. The science supports every single one of their claims about the damage Covid is doing to our minds and bodies, not just the vulnerable, but those who consider themselves invincible.

Nobody listens to them.

Proposed mask bans will make life far worse for anyone who chooses to protect themselves, regardless of whether they participate in protests. Masking for your health is a human right. It doesn't matter what you're doing or where you're doing it. It doesn't conceal your identity.

It harms no one.

It saves lives.

Please consider completing this survey if you want to help raise awareness about mask discrimination. I'll share a detailed report soon.

If you appreciate this work, please support it.

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