Why wear a mask below the nose now?
October 27, 2022 7:56 AM   Subscribe

I still occasionally see people wearing masks that don't cover their nose. I see this even with (otherwise) effective masks like [K]N85 style. When governments and businesses mandated masks, I could kinda see why someone would wear a mask like that as some sort of partial compliance/partial noncompliance notion - "I am following your rule, but I'm not going to inconvenience myself because of it". However, it's no longer the case anywhere I go that masks are required anymore - or even common. So why would someone, today, wear a mask in a useless way?
posted by saeculorum to Society & Culture (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Alterscape at 8:00 AM on October 27, 2022 [28 favorites]

Some people may genuinely not know that they are getting/giving no benefit that with their nose out, but it's (hopefully) a very small amount. On the other hand, I see my doctor do this, and assume he knows the score, as do most people with noses out.

I think the idea is to have it ready to engage at a moment's notice, but wanting the freer breathing when you don't need a mask. Eg mask up in store, mask down on street. Or mask down in empty hallway, mask up in crowded meeting room. Much easier than fully taking mask on/off. I even see people with the mask fully down under their mouth, that's clearly a "I don't mind this but want the mask handy" type of thing, no?

TLDR: Charitably, it's about options. People care and want to limit risk, but not so much that they want the mask fully on at all times. (NB I'm not saying this is sound reasoning about what is and isn't risky or how masks reduce risk, but I do think that's the rationale that people like my doctor are using)
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:00 AM on October 27, 2022 [19 favorites]

It's performative and/or makes them feel like they're doing something (when they really aren't). Also possible that they have a requirement to wear a mask on the job and have habituated to wearing it that way in "technical compliance."
posted by slkinsey at 8:03 AM on October 27, 2022 [10 favorites]

Alternatively, they normally wear it properly, pulled it down for a drink or to talk to someone who couldn't understand them or because it doesn't fit quite right and it fell down. And they didn't realize or forgot to push it back into place.
posted by Glinn at 8:04 AM on October 27, 2022 [13 favorites]

Given how many people are still wearing surgical & cloth masks & the fact that there's been no public messaging informing people what masks do & WHY they're important - I think people genuinely don't know better.
posted by bleep at 8:04 AM on October 27, 2022 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you’re maybe looking for a logical reason? If anything, the last years have shown that people from all over the various spectra make decisions for many reasons that are only occasionally about logic or, like, a sober analysis of risk. We’ve had years of mixed mask rules and still there’s confusion today about what risk we’re really under, day to day. Masks have taken on many meanings and it makes sense to me that they’d lodge in folks wardrobes in odd and seemingly contradictory ways.

People … is people.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:09 AM on October 27, 2022 [6 favorites]

There have always been tons of people who wore mask covering the mouth but not the nose, to the point that there was an entire New York MTA ad campaign devoted to telling people "no, that's wrong". Some people just plain never got it that the mask is supposed to cover both mouth and nose.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:22 AM on October 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I actually see this pretty often in my city, from a wide variety of folks. (A lot of people seem to default to having the whole thing underneath their chins, too.)

Mostly I think "wearing a mask" has just become habitual for a lot of people, it's a thing you put on in the morning when you leave the house. Maybe especially people who work in the service industry or other jobs where it's required to have one on and up in certain situations but you can pull it down quickly and easily when you don't have to wear it. (Public transportation in my area had a mask requirement up until April of this year, which is pretty recent, and various city and county government buildings are still bouncing back and forth between masks required and not.)

So they've got one on their head, but as they go about the rest of their non-work day, it either doesn't occur to them or they just don't want to bother pulling it up when entering a store or whatever, especially when a lot of other patrons aren't wearing masks at all.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:30 AM on October 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

Agree with saltysaltacid above - I notice my doctor/nurses doing this too and obviously they know how masks work. I think people who are still spending most of their day masked - for whatever reason, whether their job requires it, or just habitual, etc - many of them are probably constantly pulling their mask up and down all day and often end up in sort of a halfway zone without thinking about it too much.
posted by windbox at 8:33 AM on October 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

I pull my mask down below my nose when I’m outside but will be going inside soon (so I don’t want to take it off entirely, but don’t need it to be functional at the moment). My 6yo’s mask often falls below her nose and she doesn’t care, so she doesn’t pull it back up unless I’m there to remind her.
posted by maleficent at 8:33 AM on October 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I do this when I'm going between outdoor/indoor spaces - I do find it more comfortable to breath through my nose unmasked, and so when I go outside I'll pull the mask down, then pull it back up when going inside. So if you see this happening outside, I'd say that's likely what's happening.

If inside, I'd say it's either a) someone who doesn't read much news so they're operating with incomplete info or b) someone who finds masking uncomfortable but figures it's better to partially mask than not mask at all.
posted by coffeecat at 8:54 AM on October 27, 2022

I see this even with (otherwise) effective masks like [K]N85 style

In my (limited, obviously) experience it's pretty much always the surgical masks that end up below the nose, and I think a big part of the reason is that they just really don't stay up well for a lot of face shapes, especially when you're speaking. I'm very careful and still would find my nose uncovered without even noticing when I wore surgical masks.

So for surgical mask wearers I think it's often lack of awareness, alongside pulling it on and off all day, thinking of a mask as just something you put on without thinking too much about the mechanics, a vague perception that covid's still around simultaneously accompanied by a vague perception that it's not that big a deal, and so on.

I think most people who wear better masks (a) are more likely to care about them actually working and (b) are less likely to have their masks fall down accidentally, so in their case my guess would be more that they intentionally toggle mask states throughout the day and either don't think they're necessary at a given moment, or forgot they have them off.

And generally I think it's hard to underestimate how much people (including doctors...) actually think these things through all the way, and then act consistently with their conclusions.

(Not endorsing any of this, I get frustrated by it too when people are indoors, but these are my guesses.)
posted by trig at 9:03 AM on October 27, 2022 [7 favorites]

Some people's face/nose shapes or facial hair really just are not very well accommodated by most mask designs, and/or they have limited budgets for seeking ones that would work better. I work with a lot of people who definitely believe in the importance of masks but whose nevertheless slip downward constantly, particularly when they talk. In the context of our training sessions, I nudge them towards the head-strap duckbill style since that generally can be cinched adequately, or a formed N95 when those are available, but I'm sure they don't prefer that for day-to-day life even if they do still want to wear a mask.
posted by teremala at 9:25 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Teacher of teens here. Many do this because they worry that they are ugly and feel safer hiding a bit. This is sad but has been proven to be a real concern of many adolescents!! My students talked about “maskfishing” and worried they would disappoint people once they took off their masks. I am not kidding!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:55 AM on October 27, 2022 [17 favorites]

Ignorance seems to be the answer, yes.

True story: my kid's science class had a sub for the day. They came in wearing a mask under their nose. This is a magnet class, so they let them have it.

"You may not have guessed this, but I am not a science teacher," the teacher says.
"Oh, we guessed," said several kids.
"Really? How?"
"If you had a science degree, the mask would be covering your nose."

The sub chuckled nervously and pulled the mask up to cover their nose.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:04 AM on October 27, 2022 [30 favorites]

I live in a place where masks are not mandated, but I choose to wear one when I'm indoors in public spaces like grocery stores. Since hardly anyone else is wearing one, sometimes if I feel woozy or short of breath or just claustrophobic, and I'm not actively sick*, and I'm not very near to anyone else, I'll pull my mask off or down for a few minutes, to give myself a little break.

I'd usually just free my nose, and keep it over my mouth, for a few reasons - if I take it off completely or hang it from just one ear, it might fall on the floor, get annoyingly crumpled in my pocket, or get lost. And pulling it all the way under my chin makes the loops too tight and hurts my ears.

I only do this in mostly mask-free environments, so my bad mask etiquette isn't really endangering others, since almost everyone around is totally mask-less.

I figure keeping my mask just over my mouth for a few minutes, in case I happen to mouth-breathe or say a few words, is still better in terms of filtering my exhalations than not wearing one at all.

* I know I could be asymptomatic but I get tested a several times a week for work, so I'm able to say with above-average accuracy that I don't have covid. I do occasionally have a cold, and when I do, I keep the mask on.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:18 AM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

My kids wear masks to make me happy, but almost no one in their classes are wearing them, so they end up down from their nose.

In my martial arts classes, a few people start with masks (almost exclusively surgical - it really is hard to exert yourself with an n95, or at least it is for me although I've done it) but to some points above, if they slip down they often don't put them back over their noses - I think when you're sweating anyway it's hard to feel.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:19 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

Face shape is definitely part of the answer. I was astounded at how quickly some of my students masks slipped beneath their noses.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:56 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

At some point in childhood I was told - probably by a teacher - that to protect yourself from illness, you should always try to breathe through your nose not your mouth. Because the nose is equipped to filter out some of what's in the air, and the mouth is not. I presume a lot of other people have been told the same thing.

And we know (I think?) that it's when people are talking, shouting, singing, laughing etc. that they're more likely to infect others.

So the mouth seems like a much more important thing to keep covered, and I've been assuming that's the logic behind it. (Plus, yes, lots of masks just aren't a good fit for lots of faces... and a bonus: I bet with your nose uncovered, your glasses don't steam up.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:09 AM on October 27, 2022

My kids' masks slip down when they talk. They just don't notice. If I'm pulling down my own mask it's intended to be momentary, to unfog my glasses, but I can imagine getting distracted and forgetting to pull it back up, or maybe if I'm in a place where the temperature dynamics between me, the ambient air, and my glasses yields persistent fogging I might just leave it down for a few minutes so I can see.
posted by potrzebie at 11:10 AM on October 27, 2022

Ditto on the putting it on but down below the nose for the outside walking and just forgetting to pull it back up. There's no mask mandate here, there was, some signs are still up, some people still do, many don't wear at all. I mostly just take the cue from the people behind the counter. The big deal around here is little kids who've spent the last couple of years locked up and now getting flu and other respiratory viruses filling up the hospital beds.

Guess it depends on where you are. Eventually the masks will be gone unless you have reasons to wear them. I like masks, keeps me from having to shave and smile.
posted by zengargoyle at 11:50 AM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think Glinn's answer is the most reasonable one. We're human, we forget. I've done this, and I'm a pretty conscientious person. Many of us come across hundreds or thousands of people in a single day, and some of them will make mistakes. It's easy to notice the mistakes and ignore all of the non-mistakes, resulting in a mistaken view that most people are idiots or malicious.
posted by blisterpack at 12:16 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

If you are looking for personal anecdotes here, I have never found a 100% reliable way to prevent my glasses from fogging up, so I sometimes uncover my nose (even in a KN95) to defog my glasses.
posted by mjcon at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

By the by, that stuff fogging your glasses is the bad stuff you want to keep inside the mask. As a fellow glasses wearer the only thing to do is experiment with different styles until you find one that does the job. It's an expensive, inconvenient pain in the ass but such are the times we are in. Memail me if you want me to mail you some.
posted by bleep at 3:22 PM on October 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:58 PM on October 27, 2022

Asian idols have worn masks for a long time to go undercover, hide stubble, hide faces without makeup, etc. Since masks became a thing here, I've realized how useful it is and have used mine to hide, variously, a cold sore, a giant red pimple, and chin hairs at times when I wouldn't have needed a mask otherwise. At those times I generally keep it below my nose, just covering my mouth and chin area.
posted by Nickel at 5:18 PM on October 27, 2022

Plausible deniability.

Many people don't want to wear a mask (all of us really). But they want social credit for wearing one. They also don't want to publicly be an anti-masker. Both sides, you know? And if they do get covid, they can plausibily claim to have been wearing a mask, so it's not their fault that they are sick.

The mask on the chin accomplishes all of this at once. Perfect solution, really.
posted by Dashy at 5:56 PM on October 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

I think it's a mindset thing.

Some people just never really figure out that the right thing is the right thing because it works better; for those people, the right thing is whatever scores them the most praise and/or avoids the most blame. For people like that, public mask wearing has very little to do with controlling the spread of disease but is almost completely about avoiding being dinged for not wearing a mask when they think they're supposed to be.

Personally I am horribly judgey about that attitude because over the course of my 60 years I have almost always found people who display it to be not very good at adulting and therefore hard work to be around for any length of time. I don't have the spoons for much of that kind of work any more, so I actually kind of appreciate having such a clear I AM A FUCKWIT, WALK AWAY message broadcast to the world by those who rock the face nappy.
posted by flabdablet at 9:36 PM on October 27, 2022 [4 favorites]

I honestly think many people don’t know the nose and mouth are separate entrances to the same room, as it were.

As a new nurse I was astounded by the number of women who believed urine exited the body via the vagina. SO many people have no information about the basic structure and function of their own bodies.
posted by jesourie at 11:22 PM on October 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Summary of my theory: combination of people truly not understanding the purpose of masks/how they work with human respiratory biology, and people not understanding how to use the bendable nosepiece on a mask (or even knowing that it is there and they can bend it?!).

At the university where I teach, we still have a mask mandate in the common spaces of academic buildings. (One of the benefits of a very strong faculty union.) The majority of students have mask-wearing down pat. I acknowledge to them periodically that I know it’s uncomfortable and appreciate their consideration, they feel respected and also wish to show me similar respect, and most of them (here in Canada) do seem to view it as something they do to show care for their community (even if they personally don’t think they need to for health reasons). But every class - every single class - I’ve had to remind students to pull their masks up over their noses. I still have students come to class without a mask at all from time to time. It’s worse this year because enforcement is lower (not all faculty are as concerned about catching COVID anymore, plus being a hard-ass about mask enforcement can sometimes interfere with establishing optimal student-teacher relationships; though I’ve had some success guilting students into compliance/re-framing the situation so that they better realize that them wearing a mask demonstrates empathy and compassion for me - and the vast majority of students do want to be good to others in their community, even though they may forget to think about the details of how to do so from time to time, being still late teenagers). During the first year of the pandemic, after one or two times of making un- or improperly-masked students leave the classroom (a thing I was authorized to do in our university setting), the rest of them got the message. But that sort of hard line enforcement did create a bit of tension in the student-instructor relationship.

But my impression is that among the ones who are habitual offenders, they truly don’t understand the purpose (or simply haven’t thought about it - last week I had two students lower their masks to cough!), or they wear glasses and haven’t figured out the fogging issue, or (and this seems to be a big factor) they haven’t realized that their mask has a mouldable nosepiece and that shaping it to their nose will help keep it up (and help with the glasses fogging issue).
posted by eviemath at 5:25 AM on October 28, 2022

I think some people wear poorly fitting masks which slip down. Most other explanations are awfully speculative.
posted by theora55 at 6:56 AM on October 28, 2022 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of people who wear bicycle helmets on their heads but don’t buckle them. All of the hassle, none of the benefits. Lots of great answers above but sometimes I think it’s a holdover of “look I’m following the rules!” signaling but not taking the extra step of “inconvenience”
posted by knownassociate at 7:55 AM on October 28, 2022

As a glasses wearer, I too never found a reliable way to prevent fogging. So occasionally I will partially pull my mask down to defog for a bit. Even if my mask is below my nose 20% of the time, I'm still protected 80% of the time and that's a risk level I have decided is acceptable for me.
posted by greta simone at 8:48 AM on October 28, 2022

Hmm, this leads to an additional theory, that perhaps a number of folks now somewhat mistakenly (though understandably, given a lot of the bungled messaging I’ve seen this year) think that since medical grade masks (which are now more widely available and in use) give better (though not 95% in general since most of us don’t get them fit tested as one would in an actual medical setting) protection for the wearer than cloth masks, that their own mask-wearing habits are now only for their own benefit, and are making decisions accordingly and taking risks that they feel comfortable with given their own individual circumstances, where they might perhaps be more careful if they realized their mask-wearing habits still affected others?
posted by eviemath at 7:47 PM on October 28, 2022

Generously? After nigh on three years of this, and they don't know they're supposed to cover their nose? Idiots.

More likely, it's the performative aspect, doing just enough to avoid getting yelled at, or being able to claim they're doing what they're supposed to. It's the "I'm not touching you" brand of finding what the absolute least amount of compliance they have to do to get away with it. "You can't yell at me, I'm wearing my mask."

This is the thing that got to me, and still gets to me now, that I had always known there were a lot of people who just didn't give a shit about others, but the pandemic has taught me that my estimates on the number of people who don't care were woefully naive.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:43 PM on October 28, 2022 [2 favorites]

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