Last week, I had a confrontation of sorts. While waiting on line outside my bank to have my temperature taken in preparation for entry, a man took a position behind me. This English speaker, in an effort to assure his place behind me, stood no more than a foot away. Feeling his presence in my orbit I turned to advise him that he was failing to keep proper social distancing. As it turned out, he also was not wearing a mask, although he held one in his hand. I tried to recruit the bank guard to assist my effort to get him to stand back and put on a mask, but she indicated that until he was actually entering the bank she had no authority to force the issue. As a 73-year-old, I decided to take a stand, after all there was the potential that my health could be at risk, particularly since the entry line was clearly moving slowly. The bank was mindful that only a limited number of customers could be permitted inside at a particular time.
The man behind me was himself no spring chicken although he appeared to be closer to the 50-ish range than to 70. I began with a polite request to move back and to place the mask he was holding over his face. Initially, he refused, but eventually acquiesced a bit. He stepped back about another foot or two, but still refused to mask up. Still waiting for entry, I now became more insistent.
Rather than conceding any further ground, he decided to argue with me about the not only what he perceived to be the ridiculous rule about masks, but more startlingly about what he termed the Corona virus myth. He took the position, after I had indicated that his failure to distance adequately and put a mask on was not only a violation of the currently imposed regulation, but it was a precaution against the possibility that he could adversely affect my health. He seized on the word “possibility.”
He began by suggesting that my use of the word “possibility” meant that there was far from any certainty that his actions would impact my health ad so I had no cause for alarm. He then followed up by suggesting that the science surrounding the virus leaves a level of statistical uncertainty, and so the science is not to believed. I taught statistics at the college and university level, was a researcher, and on journal editorial boards in part because of my expertise in methodology. I tried to explain that statistical uncertainty is a given in science. He questioned my wisdom on the matter, so I revealed my credentials. He still was not buying my argument. I noted that when one tests a hypothesis, for example, a potential vaccine for a virus, the findings can only support a conclusion that hopefully holds a high level of confidence but there is no certainty. He still was not buying it.
I switched tactics. I noted how the rise in cases has risen dramatically in locations where masks were not being routinely worn, such as in the Southern US (again he was an English speaker). He argued more testing was the cause. I argued that the proportion of those who tested positive was also rising in such places, so he suggested those were fake data. I noted that hospitalizations were rising. Surely, people would not be being admitted to hospitals if the severity of symptoms was not indicative of an endangering decline in health. He yelled that it was a scam that if hospitals and doctors were admitting more people they were probably lying to their patients in order to benefit themselves financially. I finally suggested that there were many pictures of increasingly crowded critical care units. To which he actually responded by suggesting that such “patients” might well be actors, and furthermore he would not believe such pictures unless I offered the names of all those supposedly admitted patients. There was an answer for everything. Thankfully, at this point, I was permitted entry to the bank.
As I left, totally frustrated by my interaction with a real-life conspiracy theorist consumer, I spied him on the way out, mask down and smoking a cigarette. He informed me that he smoked regularly, and by the way those warnings about smoking are something to think about. I wished him could health, with a smile on my face and left.