Face Masks: Learning a Better Way From History

For the past few months, a phrase my Grade 5 history teacher, Mrs. Galbraith, has been stuck my head: “History repeats itself, but only for those that are open minded enough to see it.”
We were learning about the influx of Irish refugees to Canada and the US who were fleeing the Potato Famine in 1845. They risked everything to come across the ocean in leaky boats with little food in the hopes of finding a better life. At the time, Canada was experiencing a Vietnamese refugee crisis and Mrs. Galbraith wanted the class to see the similarities in how the public was reacting to the foreigners (they weren’t happy with the Irish in 1845 either, but eventually accepted them).
Of course, today we have the COVID-19 pandemic which has parallels to the 1918 Spanish Flu . I’m sure if I was still in Mrs. Galbraith’s class we would be reviewing a side-by-side bullet point chart that outlined the similarities and differences. This of course would lead to a lengthy week-long discussion on what we could take from the past experience in order to do better in the current crisis.
Face Masks
What has me thinking back to my Grade 5 history class today is the challenge of Face Masks. For many, it’s so plainly obvious that wearing a mask saves lives and is the right thing to do, not only for themselves, but for loved ones. These people don masks without hesitation. There is portion of the public, however, that view masks as an attempt to muzzle them and as an infringement on their personal freedom.
I must admit, when masks became recommended by health officials, I didn’t even think twice about wearing one. It just made sense to me. As the weeks went by I became frustrated and little angry at people who weren’t wearing masks. The news had pictures of people gathered in crowds, not respecting the 6ft distance and not wearing any face covering. I was happy when the newscasters and “experts” called them out.
Shaming non-compliant people has now become a sport on social media – with dozens of photos/videos uploaded every minute of people refusing to wear masks, party-goers flaunting public health guidelines and brawls over people being refused entry. Despite this, the level of mask wearing has not appreciably increased. I thought this was surprising…until I began to read about past situations that were similar: condom usage during the HIV crisis and seatbelts in the 1960s.
History is repeating itself and will we listen?
Historic Parallels
In a recent article , Luke Shors writes:
“Wearing masks to limit COVID-19 is by no means the first hard-to-sell public health intervention.  At the outset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, scientists recognized that correct and consistent use of latex condoms was an extremely effective way to reduce transmission.
Yet assuming that people would use condoms simply because condoms prevented HIV/AIDS transmission was naive. When surveys...