Dr. Leana Wen: 5 ways to convince a skeptical loved one to wear a mask

“Ultimately, we need for everyone to join us in this public health necessity,” the emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore recently told Know Your Value founder and "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski.
Image: Walmart
Shoppers wearing masks leave a Walmart Supercenter, on June 21, 2020, in Ocoee, Fla. Studies show wearing a mask can reduce the likelihood of getting COVID-19 by five times.Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP file

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By Know Your Value staff

When you’re out in public, wearing a mask is a crucial component to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. But if there are loved ones in your life who refuse to wear a face mask, it can be difficult to know what to say to convince them to do their part.

Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski recently asked Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore for tips to persuade skeptical family and friends. “Ultimately, we need for everyone to join us in this public health necessity,” said Dr. Wen, who offered the following suggestions:

1. Show them the numbers.

“The science is clear,” said Dr. Wen, who pointed to the latest research. According to a study published in the Lancet, universal mask-wearing can reduce the risk of transmitting and spreading COVID-19 by five-fold. A University of Washington model often cited by the Trump administration estimates that mask-wearing can save 40,000 lives in the U.S.--in 2020 alone. “This is also about saving the economy,” Dr. Wen also stressed. A Goldman Sachs analysis shows that it can prevent a 5 percent reduction in GDP.

2. Lead with values.

“Wearing a mask is about showing our concern for one another in this time of a public health crisis,” said Dr. Wen. “I wear a mask to protect you, and you wear a mask to protect me. We care about one another's health and well-being.”

3. Remind them that mask-wearing protects them.

“Imagine if there were a pill available that will reduce the likelihood of getting COVID-19 by five times. Everyone would want to take that pill,” said Dr. Wen. “Masks can get hot and uncomfortable, but there are no health effects to wearing them.”

4. Explain the change.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, doctors weren't recommending masks — now we are,” noted Dr. Wen. “That's because the science has evolved and we know a lot more than we did several months ago. We now know that as much as half of all transmission occurs from asymptomatic people, and that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be transmitted via aerosols — not just large droplets that come out when you cough or sneeze, but also microscopic aerosols that you expel just by breathing and speaking.”

5. Enlist other credible messengers.

“Your loved ones may need multiple enforcements,” said Dr. Wen. Ask yourself: “Is there someone else they listen to — a pastor, a friend, a local leader? If these other validators are proponents of mask-wearing, that can help to convince your family or friend.”