Voices: Please, Wear Your Mask

This op-ed story was produced during the Fall 2020 Youth Voice Workshop.  

Dear customer, why aren’t you wearing a mask? 

This is the question I ask in my head while continuing to smile and greet people into the coffee shop I work at. The usual calm atmosphere has been replaced since this pandemic began. Baristas have been updated to the fancy title of ‘essential’ and earned the position of mediators when a customer refuses to wear a mask.  

For the past couple of months, I’ve compiled a simple list of the most common answers I receive when asking a customer to put on a mask.  

First, defensively stating they have a medical exemption. I have to shrug off this response since I’m on the clock so it’s not like I can start a fullblown argument. However, I debunked this theory for my own sake and have come to the conclusion, no. Currently, all stores are following the Minnesota Department of Health’s regulations requiring masks to be worn in all public places. On the website, they also address any exceptions to wearing a mask, which, “There is no defined list of recognized medical, mental health conditions or disabilities that would prevent someone from wearing a face covering.” And before anyone asks, no, I am not allowed to ask customers further on what exact condition warrants them from wearing a mask, that would benefit all of our health.  

Second, contrary to popular belief, wearing a mask is not a political statement. I’ve worked as a barista well over a year now, so I’ve had my fair share of rude customers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a new breed of ruder customers have arisen. Because the ‘customer is always right,’ I can’t argue against their beliefs against masks, so instead I have to #smilethroughthepain. Just as I did for medical exemptions, I did  further research about Covid-19 on the CDC website to understand how effective masks are.  

The last (and of course most useful all-around excuse) is forgetfulness. Wearing a mask is currently a state mandate, so lying about not having one and then going a step further and simply refusing to wear one when offered, is kinda dumb (I’m not sure how else to put it). 

My list could continue, but it really should not be necessary for me to explain how wearing a mask is necessary for the safety of everyone. By not wearing one, not only are customers putting themselves at risk, but everyone else in that store, including other customers and the workers who were never able to take a break.  

The mantra will continue because action is not taken collectively as a group, and I can’t say anything other than, “Thank you for choosing us, what can I get started for you today.”