Act as if you already have the virus. Then how would that change the way you behave?
There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not wearing masks is helpful during the Coronavirus outbreak. Many Western media outlets have been writing about how wearing masks can be ineffective or even damaging to those who wear them. Even the Surgeon General. Nobody is buying that idea in Korea and I’ll tell you why: Protecting yourself by wearing a mask in Korea is a God given right just like every American has the right to bear arms! No, but seriously the COVID19 has a 14 day (or more!) incubation period in which it can stay dormant in your system.
What that means is that you never know if you are a carrier. You could have essentially passed on the virus to someone 13 days ago without you even knowing you have it and then started having symptoms starting tomorrow.
So the biggest reason why people wear masks is not that they are afraid of getting the virus (although it can still help). It’s so they don’t spread it themselves should it be incubating in their bodies. You see this play out in everyday society in South Korea. Even before the Coronavirus ever existed here, people who have a cold or flu have always been wearing masks. Why? So that they keep their germs to themselves and don’t spread it onto others.
You also have to understand how deep rooted this is in our culture and society. We live in a society based on Confucian ideals. One of the values is this group based thinking as opposed to maybe how individualism might be praised in the west. What we value is basically this: It’s not about you. You need to think about other people first. This is common Korean etiquette just like keeping the door open for the person behind you is in the west.
This is also the reason why you’ll find the embarrassing blue sponges on the sides of our car doors in Korea. “To bring pain onto yourself before bringing pain onto someone else.” Oh how virtuous you say! But don’t judge. I know you still try to keep the protective film on your phones on as long as possible…and that your parents still keep the plastic coverings over your living room furniture.
And there is this idea that people will be hoarding masks from the people who really need them like the medical staff on the front lines and the ones who are already infected. If they are already on the shelves of your local store, then they are not going to be making them to the hospitals any time soon. That needs to happen through a government sanctioned distribution channel in which I hope people in charge are giving priority to the people on the front lines first. So if you find them, buy one! Or make your own.
The Korean government has initiated a policy where we are only allowed to buy 2 masks per week so that we can prioritize allocation to the ones who desperately need them. This should be an example for other countries who might face similar situations.
Honestly people- Wear the masks. This is along with the washing of the hands and the social distancing. And definitely not as a replacement. Act as if you already have the virus. Then that should shape the way you would behave?
If you want to know why Koreans in general wear face masks, check out this post about 5 Different Reasons Why Koreans Wear Masks. This is why we would wear them even before coronavirus ever existed.