Tuesday 14 July 2020

Mandatory face coverings for all?

The recent news that face masks, or face coverings, are to become mandatory inside shops in England from 24th July has already caused some heated arguments online. No surprise really, given the current levels of anxiety of many in our communities.

Wearing a face covering was made compulsory (with fines for non-compliance) on public transport and in hospitals in England back on the 15th June. I believe that there wasn't such a huge outcry at that point because numbers of public transport users have dropped considerably during the lockdown period, so requirements for masks didn't affect the majority. Shops though, are places which many have returned to entering on a weekly basis and many more people will be affected by the new guidance.

I don't have all the evidence to say whether mask wearing is effective or not, and I'm sure for every report which says they are, people who don't want to wear them will find alternatives which say they are not. I guess my own thoughts are that mask wearing might not be pleasant, but it's not difficult for me to do. So I am personally happy to wear one with the knowledge that there's a chance that it may protect others. Our eldest daughter will wear one, because she is able to and can understand the need. Our youngest daughter, who happens to be autistic and extremely anxious, will not want to wear one. As she has only been outside our front door twice since the beginning of the lockdown period this is not a huge issue for us currently. It does mean however mean that opportunities for getting out will now be very limited, possibly for quite some time to come.
Photo is of me, wearing a mask, with slogan saying 'be kind. always!'
Photo is of me, wearing a mask, with slogan saying 'be kind. always!'
My post is not so much about the mask wearing and whether we should or shouldn't. As per my T-shirt slogan, what I am keen to see overall in this world is a little less judgement and a little more kindness. Many people might not feel comfortable wearing a mask and for some it may increase their anxiety so much that they are just not able to do it.
The country is divided... anyone remember a similar scenario happening in the UK four years ago? A major issue is that people become very opinionated online, and pointed in their comments and language; standing up for what they personally believe in and refusing to listen to someone else's point of view. In some cases, pig-headedness and a love of arguments is driving those comments, but for many I believe that it's higher than usual levels of anxiety which cause quick retorts and unbending behaviour.

It is supposedly down to the police to monitor and fine people if they decide not to wear a mask when entering a store, although store staff have apparently also been asked to enforce this. I suspect this will be a kind of postcode lottery, depending on the views of certain managers in both police and retail environments. Interesting though, that this new rule will not apply to retail staff, according to this article by the BBC.

My main worry in all of this is about the judgement and 'challenging' which is likely to happen and which could make some families, especially those with children with additional needs - as shown in this report about a family who were trying to visit a Gulliver's World theme park recently but whose child was not allowed on rides because he was not able to wear a face mask. Interestingly, these rules are not immediately obvious on their website... but that's a different issue.

Today I was in a short queue at a checkout when the man in front, who was wearing a mask, asked the woman serving behind the counter for some lottery tickets. She couldn't understand what he was saying and had to call a colleague over, who then explained that the other woman was hard of hearing and masks were making life very difficult for her. For those who are deaf and who rely on lip reading, it must feel very isolating and like the world is about to become a much smaller place. 

Government guidance from 24th June about staying safe outside your home stated the following about face masks:

8. Face coverings
You must wear a face covering at all times on public transport or when attending a hospital as a visitor or outpatient. Hospitals will be able to provide a face covering in emergencies. If you can, you should also wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet. This is most relevant for short periods indoors in crowded areas. You should be prepared to remove your face covering if asked to do so by police officers and staff for the purposes of identification.

Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you*. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.

Face coverings do not replace social distancing. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, and/or high temperature, and/or loss of, or change in, your normal sense of smell or taste - anosmia), you and your household must isolate at home: wearing a face covering does not change this. You should arrange to have a test to see if you have COVID-19.

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of personal protective equipment. These should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust hazards.

Face coverings should not be used by children under the age of 3 or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly.

It is important to use face coverings properly and wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.

You can make face-coverings at home. The key thing is it should cover the mouth and nose.

The current safer travel guidance for passengers states that:

'You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes:

  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

Please be mindful that the wearing of a face covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound.

New Government guidance hasn't been released yet so we will need to wait and see what mention there is of exemptions with regards to use of face coverings in shops. The Guardian has already reported that 'the exemptions for shops in England are expected to be in line with the guidance for public transport. This says that children under 11 are exempt and those with a physical or mental impairment or disability that means they cannot put on or wear a face covering.'

Autism Anglia has produced a Facemask Exemption Card which some might find helpful to carry around with them. The PDA Society has produced Alert cards which can help explain to others about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the type of autism which our daughter has.

In all of this, I am not trying to discourage anyone from wearing a face mask; far from it. I think if you can wear a face mask, you should, even if you're not keen on the idea. It could help stop the spread of this infection which has already caused too many deaths in our world. 

However, I would beg that members of the public ideally do not judge, but definitely do not challenge, anybody not wearing a face covering. There may be a very good reason for not wearing one. There's a great post over on The Autism Diaries page on Facebook about this which I hope you'll read. Some of the comments are worrying.

I think we all know that there are some who will use excuses to not wear one when they really could and should, but we shouldn't restrict the activities of some based on the actions of those with no conscience. I hope that police and store staff can be flexible and use common sense when thinking about trying to enforce this guidance which could help in some way but which we can already see is causing grief for many.

For more information about PDA, please read the book shown below: 
* this is an affiliate link and I may receive a small commission if you click and go on to buy anything. It won't cost you any extra.

Book cover for Understanding pathological demand avoidance syndrome in children, by Phil christie, margaret duncan, zara healy and ruth fidler

(Other PDA books can be found in my 

To find out more about our experiences, please check out our 'About Us' page or the summary of our experience in Our PDA Story Week 35. If you are looking for more online reading about Pathological Demand Avoidance, the posts below may help.

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Ten things you need to know about Pathological Demand Avoidance

Does my child have Pathological Demand Avoidance?

The difference between PDA and ODD

Strategies for PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

Pathological Demand Avoidance: Strategies for Schools

Challenging Behaviour and PDA

Is Pathological Demand Avoidance real?

Autism with demand avoidance or Pathological Demand Avoidance?

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