If you see someone who isn’t wearing a mask in public, what do you do?

If you see someone who isn’t wearing a mask in public, what do you do?

Socially safe etiquette during COVID-19 is more important now than it has ever been. Emily Post, famous etiquette expert, once said that considering the rights and feelings of others is the “very foundation upon which social life is built.”

E. Simon-Thomas, the leading University of California Berkeley expert on the neuroscience and psychology of compassion, kindness, gratitude and pro-social skills, added: “Etiquette is a way for people to get along in situations that are ambiguous, which is what we find ourselves in now.”

People want to be equipped with the tools they need to handle that awkward situation when you see someone not wearing a mask in public. Do you just avoid them? Do you approach them? It can be hard to know. After all, confrontations over masks have gone viral on social media when they haven’t gone well.

“Resisting pressure to confront people who don’t wear masks may be difficult,” says Dr. Munther Barakat, director of behavioral health at Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, WI. “Identifying our frustration with how ‘not everyone is doing their part’ to fight the pandemic may cause us to be confrontational.”

Being sensitive to the fact that we don’t know why someone might not be following public health guidance is important. You just might have to leave or create some distance. It is becoming increasingly acceptable to say things like:

  • “Please stand back.”
  • “Please stand away from me.”

Remember, the tone of your voice and a smile soften how you say something.

Here are some examples of ways to resolve mask conflict without confrontation:

  • In a store, go down a different aisle to get to your destination.
  • On a walk in your neighborhood, cross the street and walk on the opposite sidewalk.
  • At a gas station, know your surroundings and pick a pump with nobody on the other side.
  • At the bank, use the drive-thru instead of going in.
  • Choose curb-side pick-up to get a bite to eat and take it home to eat instead of eating in a restaurant.
  • Choose a restaurant that has outdoor seating options.

“We can educate our family and friends about the importance of protecting others,” says Dr. Barakat. You can offer “gentle” reminders to wear a mask around you so that you feel comfortable.

In the end, the only person you can control is yourself.

If you’re looking for a behavioral health provider, click here if you live in Wisconsin. Click here if you live in Illinois.

Related Posts



  1. How do get the virus from passing by someone on the street, store, etc? You have no close contact and don’t speak to them?

  2. I agree with the article. There is no need to confront anyone who is not wearing a mask. Some people fit into the exclusion catagory and we do not know their medical history nor should we. That is very private. I work with deaf/hard of hearing and it was very difficult to communicate with masks on. Remember before you judge check yourself.

  3. I like you comments about things to say to others not wearing masks. Still laughing about saying it with a smile, though. Pretty hard to smile with your mask on!

  4. Very simple, don’t confront or engage with people you have an issue with. 1) it keeps you safe. 2) It keeps them safe.

  5. All places of business should have signage that says:
    No Shoes
    No Shirt
    No Mask
    No Service

    Stand up and tell the business that you will not patronize their business if they can’t/won’t do this.

    For the no-mask crowd: wearing a mask is a tiny sacrifice compared to the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation that endured a long, hard Depression, rationing and War.

    • What is the purpose of the mask? To protect the wearer! If you are wearing an appropriate mask, what do you have to worry about? Get your vaccine and monitor your own behavior!

  6. Great tips. Thanks.

    When my wife and I are out on walks, very few are wearing masks, including us. We simply move away as people are approaching. We mainly walk in the street. It’s surprising that no one ever moves away from us. Am surprised watching people passing each other or conversing closely without masks. When I run, I find myself zig-zagging away from people all the time. It’s an inconvenience but results in extra steps-a bonus!

  7. My plan is to never confront someone if they are not wearing a mask. Its not my job, nor my business. Plus I don’t know why they are not wearing one, if its medical or not, plus there are some people who are reacting violently when being confronted.

    Though some maskers are going way overboard as well. Like the lady who was in the news a little bit ago. She threw a cup of coffee into a mans face because he was not wearing a mask.

    My plan is never to confront.

  8. How can A SMILE (Behind the mask) soften what you say?
    If you can’t see the smile, the smile is not as important as THE TONE.
    The raised cheek bones, implies you have a smile.

  9. Remember, some people have disabilities (e.g. autism) that prevent wearing a mask.
    Not all disabilities are visible!

  10. I appreciated the author stating that the only one we can control is ourselves, but here is another twist to the never-ending saga of mask wearing etiquette.
    I was on my home from work, listening to a work meeting with earpods and I stopped to go into a store. My earpods disconnected and it took a bit to get reconnected to the meeting. I was tired and frustrated, entered the store and shopped for about 15 minutes before I realized, to my horror, that I had not put on my mask. Not one person said a thing to me. I wish someone would have pointed it out to me and I would have gladly put the one I had right in my purse on my face. I guess we need to question with kindness and use discretion.

  11. If you are smiling , your eyes tell the whole story. You can see the smile in your eyes.

  12. It is NOW a none issue… If you have a mask on you are protecting yourself. According to the latest finding of the CDC. So why say anything!?

  13. I choose to believe everyone wearing a mask is smiling.

  14. I work in a laundromat. I asked the boss if he could purchase some masks for us to give out. If anyone comes in without a mask, I simply walk over to them, hand them one and say: “Could you please wear this while you’re in here?”
    I’ve never had problem with this approach. They wear them.

  15. If you are vaccinated there is no need for a mask.

  16. If you are that scared just stay home. Why are you trying to shame someone for what is a personal choose? If I choose not to wear a mask I don’t say anything to you about wearing a mask.

  17. Why show a picture of a someone with gloves on? Stop wearing medical gloves to public places people.

  18. I will mind my own business. That’s what I have been doing and will continue to do so. 😀

  19. Pro tip: move on with your life, just like you would have during every flu season for the past x number of years you’ve been alive. They aren’t doing anything *to* you, so don’t do anything back.

  20. I keep far away from anti-maskers. Yikes! Not wearing a mask while a deadly pandemic is raging out of control is a pretty telling sign about what type of person they are! AVOID.

About the Author

Amy Werdin
Amy Werdin

Amy Werdin, health enews contributor, is a provider public affairs coordinator with Advocate Aurora Health. She has been with the organization for 19 years, starting out in marketing for Advanced Healthcare, then Aurora Health Care and now in her current role. She enjoys reading, movies and watching her two daughters dance and her son swim.