Masks in the Time of Coronavirus: We Need to Overcome Mask Phobia


Masks in the Time of Coronavirus


Simon Erskine Locke, Founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch

The president doesn’t want to wear a mask.

Do you? Really, deep down, do you? Have you bought or made masks? Are you or your family wearing them when you go outside?

If the answers to any of these questions are no (If I’m honest, I haven’t been keen), we have to ask “Why?”

Why is it that, even when the nation’s top medical professionals recommend wearing cloth masks when we go out for our and others’ safety, we are reluctant to wear them (assuming we have them).

As communicators we are in the behavior business. Whether it’s to encourage others to consider products or services or to help employees get through this crisis.

As a rule, we can be good at our jobs but not so good at understanding why we do what we do as individuals. As I have written in the past, unless we seek to understand the drivers of our own actions, and ultimately their consequences, it is hard to change them.

The coronavirus pandemic highlights in sharp relief the significant gap between what we are being asked to do and what many are doing.

As the individual who should be setting an example for the country, the president’s refusal to wear a mask both reflects the attitude of many and provides an excuse not to take this basic step.

Without leadership from the top, we need leadership from the bottom. We all need to set an example.

It’s worth thinking about other examples of behavioral change to help us think differently about wearing masks.

How you would respond if someone walked into your house and smoked a cigarette in front of your children? Forty years ago, few would have batted an eye, but I’ll venture today, instinctively we’d tell someone to take it outside because we understand the risks of secondhand smoke.

When I was growing up, wearing a seat belt was considered uncool. Despite years of evidence that this saves our lives, that we would even have debate around wearing them underscores the clash between ego and vanity-driven behavior versus our rational minds.

While wearing seat belts is about self-preservation, not drinking and driving adds the dimension of not killing others, and yet people still drive drunk.

Behavioral change is often slow. It requires a conscious evaluation that the benefits of change outweigh the consequences of doing nothing. And, change is very hard. If it were easy, we would not be having these conversations.

There’s a dimension with masks that needs to be understood so our rational brains can win out. Changing our behaviors to benefit “others” is generally much harder than when the change is for ourselves.



In Japan – where I lived for seven years – individual behaviors are much more focused on benefiting society as a whole. The wearing of masks is normal. It has a social and individual purpose. Vast numbers of Japanese suffer hay fever from the pollen of non-indigenous pine trees, but the Japanese also wear masks to protect from others’ potential illnesses as well as to protect others from theirs. In fact, if you have a cold it is basic manners to wear a mask.

Japan serves as an example that there’s no fundamental reason why we should not wear masks. In that society no one judges you negatively when you wear one. In fact, there’s little doubt that right now you are seen as doing something important for society.

That’s how we need to look at masks in the time of COVID-19.

Wearing a mask will protect others and ultimately you. Although cloth masks are not a prophylactic or guarantee you will not get the virus, like seat belts they will reduce the risk of spread and contagion if used correctly.

To overcome mask phobia, there’s no doubt that we also need to frame this in very personal terms.  If we all wear masks in public places, it will be far less likely for you or your family to get sick or in the worst case, die.

If you are looking for a clear benefit to overcome ego or vanity, this should be reason enough.



As communicators, we need to lead and set an example. I encourage others to join me in posting pictures to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with the hashtag #maskedcommunicators, or to come up with something even better!

About the Author: Simon Erskine Locke is the founder & CEO of CommunicationsMatch™, which offers search tools and services to help companies find, shortlist, and hire agencies, consultants, and freelancers, and help agencies and professionals generate new business leads. During the coronavirus pandemic, CommunicationsMatch is leveraging its resources to help connect struggling not-for-profits and companies with Communications Volunteers willing to give their time to help others at no cost or discounted services. It is offering access to MDLIVE as well as additional time and discounts on membership plans. Find out more at the CommunicationsMatch Insights Blog.






  1. Kathie Fortin Croyle on at 1:38 PM

    wore mask at onset – but starting to make me feel freaked out. LIke I’m being smothered and my heart is racing. I get chest pain. I can’t think about anything else -totally fixated that something is on my face and I am not going to be able to breath.

    • Lisa wysocki on at 5:20 PM

      I feel the same way myself.. I can’t even wear one for a minute because I feel like I’m suffocating!! no way can I function in this world anymore!!! Can’t wear a mask so can’t go in ANYWHERE!!!

      • Stacey on at 8:28 PM

        I’m the same. I haven’t gone back to work because I panic with anything on my face. I can’t even go to see a dr for the same reason

  2. Nick on at 11:08 AM

    Because there is no valid reason to wear a mask… Top officials said so in beginning, then said wait we should… Just as the hospitalization rate right now is half per 100,000 than that of flu… Quite simply the medical community has failed… in many ways… They have no solid data to back their models… Let the virus spread, keep those vulnerable protected… The reaction was foolish at best if not criminal…

    • Nick on at 11:09 AM

      Additionally it’s not about fear it’s about risk tolerance

  3. Donna on at 8:16 AM

    I work at Walmart, and corporate said we have to , But so we really? Will we get fired if we don’t? Why wear them outside in the fresh air? What about our immune systems? I have a bad fear of my body not being able to fight anything if I continue.

    • Ronda Leon on at 2:23 PM

      Seek legal counsel. I believe it is wrong for them to mandate that.

    • Amy on at 5:41 PM

      I work (worked) at Lowes, last day today, and they made it a policy as of 5/4/20 that we are required to wear mask. I can not wear one due to claustrophobia. They sent me home with out pay and I have to call HR to even see if I can be granted a leave of absence. None of the other employees a wearing the mask properly. They keep taking them on and off and wearing them under their chin. So why send me home. You will get the same result if you wear them improperly that you will if you don’t wear one at all. I don’t think it is for “our safety” I think they want to look like we are concerned for our customers

  4. Ronda Leon on at 2:22 PM

    First off, not everyone can wear a mask. Therefore to state that it could save your life is fear mongering. There are people like me that struggle with anxiety and claustrophobia over wearing a mask at all. As you said, there is no guarantee. This whole virus thing is blown out of proportion, and more doctors are saying just that. It is a flu. Just like with the flu, you may get it, you may not. You could die from it or not. To mandate that a whole nation wear a mask based on what could be is, for one, ignorant, and for two, unconstitutional. I will not wear a mask because it makes it hard for me to breathe and it is just plain ignorant.

  5. Yair on at 3:47 PM

    Beacauze if you’re not legally compelled to wear one you are an agent of the state, unthinking, therefore if you persist in alienating yourself from humanity you are a cunt

    • Jesse on at 6:47 PM

      There’s no way I will ever conform to this tyranny. This is nothing more than communistic propaganda.

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