Blog | Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Will we be wearing face masks forever?

I don't foresee them disappearing from the public landscape anytime soon.

I think there will be a segment of the population that will continue to wear masks even after the pandemic has subsided. Indeed, there are parts of the world where donning a face mask is routine.

And as we have all seen, there is a vocal segment of the population that will refuse mask wearing regardless of the circumstances. For example, sitting governors, with a keen eye for politics, have ordered that no mask mandates can be instituted in their states. Score 1 for Politics and 0 for Science.

Just as our country has not experienced its last hurricane or wildfire, there are other pandemics lurking over the horizon. So, over time, mask wearing will rise periodically when nature's germ warfare strikes us again.

I also suspect that many health care institutions will require their staffs to wear masks long after the public will have been advised that masking is no longer advised. These hospitals and medical facilities may truly believe that ongoing mask wearing will offer protection with no downside. And, it may serve as a branding function to reassure the public regarding the institution's culture of safety. Many medical images, a stethoscope, the nurse's cap of yore, the white coat, the doctor's black bag and a surgical mask, are viewed favorably by the public.

Have you ever noticed how often physicians being interviewed on television are wearing a white coat when there isn't a patient in site? Image matters.

I don't envision that a face mask will become a permanent wardrobe accessory for me. But I expect to see others masked up on ground and air transportation, in theaters and at sporting or entertainment events. Perhaps, our marketing gurus, who spend their professional lives convincing us to buy products that we don't need, will convince us that masks are cool. Imagine a 30-second ad spot during the Super Bowl depicting a biker on a Harley cruising up a dirt road, sunlight gleaming off the motorcycle, mask in place …

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.