When the Public Won’t Wear Masks
Since federal and state mask mandates have been lifted in the United States, much of the general public has chosen to forgo masking.24,25
Dr Shanahan is part of multiple patient communities and has had many discussions with community members about how a lack of masking is detrimental to patients with cancer.
“We are angry, and we’re disheartened,” Dr Shanahan said, adding that it seems as though the general public doesn’t care about cancer patients and other people who are vulnerable to severe outcomes of COVID-19.
“They say, ‘You don’t want to get it, you just stay home,’” Dr Shanahan said. “I think there’s a lot of anger in our community at the fact that people won’t do something so simple as to wear a mask.”
“For many people with cancer, we’ve really put our lives on hold,” Dr Shanahan explained. “I have a disease that’s going to kill me eventually, which is already very isolating. Then with the pandemic, just when it seems like things are improving and I think maybe I can start traveling again and doing things again, mask mandates are dropped and infection rates go up.”
Cancer Patients Harassed by Anti-Maskers
Cancer patients have reported being harassed and even assaulted by anti-maskers when trying to access care or when going about their daily lives.
In July 2021, Vice News published an article about a protest outside a cancer center, during which a patient with breast cancer was reportedly “sprayed with bear mace, physically assaulted, and verbally abused” by protestors.26
Dr Shanahan has also had negative encounters with anti-maskers because she wears a mask in public.
“I have had people calling me a ‘sheep’ and rolling their eyes at me,” she said. “I will stop them and say, ‘You don’t know whether I am immunocompromised. You don’t know whether I have COVID and I have my mask on to protect you. You don’t know whether I have an elderly person or kid under 5 at home. So how is my mask hurting you?’”
Jon Gluck, who has been living with multiple myeloma for almost 2 decades, has also experienced “a few incidents” related to mask wearing, where he lives in New York City.
“If I’m in a crowded indoor space and very close to somebody, and they don’t have their mask on, unfortunately, I need to speak up,” Gluck told Cancer Therapy Advisor. He added that he doesn’t like to mention his cancer when requesting that people mask around him, but he does bring it up if the person is reluctant to put on their mask.
“Even in the cases where it’s gotten contentious, ultimately, people have done it,” Gluck said. “They’re just not happy about it.”
“Here in New York, we had a period when COVID infection rates and hospitalizations and deaths had dropped to a reasonably low level,” Gluck continued. “And again, understandably, people just were very eager to unmask at that point; they were sick of it, and who can blame anyone?”
Gluck wrote an article for The Washington Post in which he shared his experience and asked for others to understand that immunocompromised people are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.27 The article was published in January of this year. Less than a month later, New York State lifted its indoor mask mandate.28
“That’s when things started getting a little trickier for those of us who are immunocompromised because we would love to take off our masks,” Gluck said. “But it just is not as safe for us to do that as it is for other people.”
“It’s difficult for people who are immunocompromised because there’s just a lot less masking overall and a lot less precaution in general,” Gluck said. “This is exactly the world I anticipated when I wrote that article.”
Disclosures: None of the interviewees declared relevant disclosures.
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