On recent tram ride I ran into a friend who was not wearing a mask. When I asked him why not, he responded, “I had the virus. I have been tested for immunity and have a letter from doctors at the HUG saying I don’t have to wear a mask. I am a danger to no one.” Just as he finished his explanation, a passenger came up to him and berated him for “putting the lives of other people in danger.”
Was Boris right not to wear a mask although it is the law? Was the passenger right to berate him?
Boris had the letter from the doctor in his backpack. He showed it to me at a proper distance. The results showed that he could not possibly infect other people. His reasoning seemed beyond refute.
And yet, I cannot imagine anything in medicine being 100% certain. As we learn more and more about Covid-19, there seem to be more unanswered questions. We were told that young people could not carry the virus. Now we learn that young people can carry the virus even if they show no symptoms. The New York City school system, the largest in the world, has just announced that classes will not normally reopen in September. It now seems that young children can spread the disease.
So although Boris had a doctor’s certification that he did not have to wear a mask since he had sufficient antibodies against infection, there could remain elements of doubt. I assume that medicine is more an art than a science and that whatever the letter said, there could be exceptions, especially with our evolving knowledge of Covid-19. So why take the risk.
The passenger who berated Boris raises another question. What are we to do when we see someone not wearing a mask in public transportation? Although we are supposed to wear masks in trams, buses and trains, a headline in a recent Tribune de Genève says that one commuter out of three surveyed at the train stations of Bern, Lausanne and Zurich was not wearing a mask. Out of 14,000 people observed, more than 5,000 were like Boris, mask-less.
If caught by controllers, people without masks are to be asked to leave the bus, train or tram at the next stop. That is the official position. But this does not say what other passengers are to do. When Boris was criticized, I remembered seeing a young passenger without a mask on a previous ride and felt somewhat guilty that I had made no comment. And when I later asked a controller at the train station what I was to do when I saw someone without a mask, he just shrugged. In other words, as a concerned citizen, there was nothing for me to do.
As Boris and I continued our discussion, and as the berating passenger stepped off the tram, Boris put on his mask. “Why are you doing that?” I asked.
“I know I don’t have to,” he answered. “But I realize that if I don’t have the mask on it will make people nervous. So I put on the mask to re-assure them although I have no technical reason to wear it.”
A very reasonable and responsible position. Merci Boris.