The barely there facial coverings are in the news this week after singer Lana Del Rey wore a bejeweled version to a Barnes & Noble poetry reading and fan meet-and-greet in Los Angeles on Friday. (Naturally, there were plenty of “Born To Die” quips on Twitter.)
Del Rey, who wore a similarly sparkly, similarly ineffective mask on the cover of Interview magazine last month, was quickly called out by concerned followers on social media. (Photos posted on Instagram and Twitter show the singer in close proximity to some fans while taking selfies.)
“Girl that’s not a mask,” read one comment from her more than 17 million Instagram followers. “You make good music but poor decisions.”
“ILY BUT WEAR A PROPER MASK,” read another upvoted comment.
Other fans of the singer-cum-poet insisted that the mask featured an invisible lining for added protection but as Page Six noted, the Dolls Kill “Pure Finer Things” mask Del Rey appeared to be wearing includes no such barrier.
Whatever the case, Del Rey is hardly the first to flout mask regulations by wearing a questionable face covering. In recent months, everyday, non-Grammy-nominated people have thrown on mesh and crochet masks to protest safety regulations they say are government overreach.
On Etsy, more than 7,500 search results come up for mesh masks. Many were originally marketed for events like raves but the reviews show that people are buying them to tiptoe around mask ordinances: “Awesome product, appeases the mask police while allowing me to breath [sic] and look fancy while doing so lol,” a review of a popular bejeweled mesh mask reads.
It goes without saying that these “masks” offer little ― if any ― protection against a virus that has killed more than 1 million people worldwide.
“Respiratory droplets are tiny and can easily be released through the openings of the mesh,” said Kirsten Hokeness, professor and chair of the department of science and technology at Bryant University and an expert in immunology, virology, microbiology and human health and disease. “The CDC recommends masks made of two or more layers covering your face and nose.”
Hokeness said that hearing about the mesh mask trend is especially hard to swallow after the events of this weekend: The United States’ mask-averse president is infected with COVID-19. The virus is now tearing through the West Wing and Capitol and on top of that, we still have to deal with the attention-seeking antics of the “personal freedom” crowd.
Seven months into the pandemic, Hokeness, like many Americans, is suffering from anti-masker fatigue.
“It is infuriating to continue to see people either try to skirt the mask mandates by not wearing effective masks or not wearing masks at all as we still struggle to get this virus under control in this country,” she said.
“The coronavirus outbreak at the White House clearly indicates how quickly this virus can spread to individuals who are not wearing masks and are in close contact,” Hokeness said. (Many experts believe that Trump’s gathering in late September to celebrate the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court could be classified as a COVID-19 superspreader event.)
As for people who wear mesh PPE, they’re losing the COVID-19 battle on every front. First, there’s the twofold health concerns: They magnify their risk of catching the virus themselves and risk spreading it.
What’s more, their political statement has holes it in (literally): Wouldn’t real rebellion mean refusing to conform to the rules and going entirely mask-free?
They may feel as if they’re “owning the libs” with their workaround, but they still have to go through all the minor discomfort of wearing a mask ― just without any of the actual benefits.
What they do gain is attention, said Shane G. Owens, a psychologist and the assistant director of campus mental health at Farmingdale State College in New York (SUNY).
“This makes sense with celebrities because they live on attention,” he said. “The ‘regular Joe and Jane’ faux-mask-wearers are harder to understand.”
Still, the psychologist gave some thought to why you’d risk you and your family getting COVID-19 to spite the government.
“Some value independence over personal and public health,” he said. “Some people believe that masks are more dangerous than the disease. Others believe they’re part of a sinister plot to enslave us.”
Whatever their beliefs, as the war over mask use wears on, Owens thinks the mask-resistors’ behavior is sort of like that of children in a family with a lot of conflict.
“They’re trying desperately to get their parents’ attention and control the uncontrollable.”
They may end up attracting the wrong kind of attention, though: If you’re wearing a faux mask to protest government overreach into your life, you’re behaving in a way that begs for more government intrusion into your life, Owens said.
“Wearing masks that draw more attention to you like these mesh ones is not an effective way to keep the government off your back,” he added.
In other words: If you hate the government-mandated mask guidelines, you’re really going to hate government contract tracers incessantly calling you once you test positive for COVID-19.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.