Covid Field Research: Masks

Passing the pharmacy on my afternoon walk, I wondered how many of the customers wear masks, in accord with state and city directives. So I set up a surveillance post under a shady tree near the entrance and watched. Of the next 25 people who entered the pharmacy, 22 were wearing masks, 3 were not.

That’s better than I’d expected. I told my wife and daughter about my study and asked them to guess the results: they guessed 10 and 9 mask-wearers, respectively.

Who were the three non-masked customers?

A white man, early 30s, snappily dressed. Early in my field research I’d seen him leave the store unmasked, but since he’d gone in prior to my starting the survey I hadn’t counted him in my tally. He was vigorously rubbing his nose and mouth as he walked out of the store, so I wondered if maybe he’d taken his mask off just as he was leaving because it irritated him. He headed back to his big gunmetal-gray Jeep Wrangler where he smoked a cigarette, after which he returned to the store, still unmasked. He hadn’t yet exited by the time I left — maybe it was his self-appointed job to hang around inside, unmasked, exposing the other customers to whatever was irritating his respiratory tract, but he’d needed a smoke break.

A white man, around 50, casually dressed. He’d backed his van into a parking space very near my surveillance post, so I could give the rear end of the vehicle a good once-over: A cooling service van, maybe ten years old, Georgia tags, on the rear window a big decal of a modified Gadsden flag, the coiled rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread On Me” motto backgrounded by an elongated yellow skull. He was still in the store when I finished my survey several minutes later.

A black man, mid 40s, casually dressed, driving a minivan. He exited the pharmacy maybe 2 minutes after he’d entered and drove away.




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