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Psychologist: Fear of feeling vulnerable behind rejection of masks

Staff writer

Even as Marion County is seeing unprecedented spikes in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, many remain resistant to wearing masks that could protect others from the virus.

In Marion, despite a mask ordinance in effect through Dec. 31, some still don’t use them.

Greg Carlson, co-owner of Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion, estimates about 80 percent of customers wear masks when they shop at the store.

His policy for employees is to either wear a mask or keep six feet away from people.

Wearing a mask for a lengthy amount of time is uncomfortable because employees are constantly moving and get sweaty under the masks, he said.

Catherine Weems, owner of Peabody Market, said some customers wear masks and some do not, but she declined to guess how many do or don’t.

“I think high-risk people are taking better care of themselves,” Weems said.

Weems said her policy is for employees to wear a mask when they come into contact with people.

“I think we’re all just ready for this to be done,” Weems said.

County health nurse Diedre Serene attributes part of recent COVID surges in the county to people being more lax about wearing masks, practicing good hygiene, and staying home when they are sick.

COVID surges statewide, especially in rural areas, led governor Laura Kelly to meet with Republican leadership to discuss another statewide mandate that Kansans wear masks in public places.

She issued a mandate in July, but 90 counties, Marion among them, rejected the mandate.

“Wearing a mask should not be political. It’s about public health and keeping our economy and schools open,” she said.

Lauren Lucht, executive director for mental and behavioral health for Kansas University Medical Center, said two psychological outlooks — one a common defense mechanism — make people resist wearing masks.

Some resist because it’s inconvenient, she said.

But a mask also is an admission of vulnerability, she said.

“One of our defenses as humans is to convince ourselves that bad things do not happen to good people,” Lucht said. “We want to believe we’re at extremely low risk for catching and transmitting.”

She said people justify to themselves that the inconvenience is not worth what they tell themselves is a low risk.

“We can’t pretend it’s just another normal obstacle, that if we just tough it out, we’ll make it through,” Lucht said.

She said mental health issues have risen because of social isolation and having to take precautions against the virus. Anxiety and depression have increased. The longer it goes on, the more fatigue people will feel, Lucht said.

“What about when I am feeling vulnerable and that’s not what I’m used to feeling every single day?” she said. “That adds to the stress level that people are already experiencing.”

Last modified Oct. 29, 2020

 

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