Face Masks – the NOW Normal.
Face masks and coverings are as old as our civilisations: we have been using them over thousands of years for protection, for fun, for subterfuge and out of respect. The coronavirus crisis has given face masks a new importance due to our need for them in preventing the spread of the Covid-19 virus and has underlined our unpreparedness when the catastrophic lack of proper protective masks and other protective equipment for our health professionals and key workers put them in harm’s way. All of us are now required to change our habits. In some countries, legislation is in place to ensure that we use masks, for example on public transport or in hospitals. On other occasions, and especially where social distancing is difficult or impossible, such as when visiting a restaurant, wearing a face covering is simply seen as a good thing to do, putting the safety of our fellow humans ahead of our own convenience.
The reasons for using face masks have been expressed very eloquently by Prof. Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society:
It used to be quite normal to have quite a few drinks and drive home, and it also used to be normal to drive without seatbelts. Today both of those would be considered antisocial, and not wearing face coverings in public should be regarded in the same way. If all of us wear one, we protect each other and thereby ourselves, reducing transmission. We lower the chances of future surges and lockdowns which are economically and psychologically disruptive, and we increase the chance of eliminating the virus. Not doing so increases the risk for everyone, from NHS (ed: National Health Service) workers to your grandmother.
Anyone following the development Covid-19 will have picked up that there is also a debate following more information from WHO about whether the virus is transmitted as fine airborne particles like an aerosol, not only or mainly through droplets: this might add a truly personal protection aspect to wearing a water resistant face covering – like a hyphen sports mask – in preventing the virus from reaching us.
Walking the Talk
As founder of Responsibility3 Ltd, I work as a champion of responsibility, using Sustainability as a leading process in driving change. This means that I work with individuals, companies and organisations who want to explore, challenge and change the way that they operate. One of the areas we work on is to question of all the “stuff” that we seem to need for our consumerist lifestyles, fuelled by our culture and society. We have come to a point, as John Fowles neatly puts it in the Epilogue to his novel A Maggot, “When excess becomes synonymous with success.”
So, then, what am I doing getting involved with a clothing and accessories company that actually designs, makes and distributes more goods that could – unkindly – be referred to as “stuff”?
The first reason, is that Christiane and Peter, the founders and directors of hyphen sports and two long-standing of mine from Munich, asked me if I could help sell their special masks in the UK market. This is, in itself, is very compelling.
The second reason is that they design and produce particularly functional clothing and accessories. They started with sun-protection clothing for kids, and expanded into sun-protection lines for adults, and then included mountain gear. They are renowned internationally for their expertise in sun protection, and have helped many cases of burn- or sun-afflicted youngsters. Over two decades, they have built up a very successful business that has a strong social purpose. Sustainability is at the heart of their thinking, design and production: their masks – like all their products – are European from start to finish. With apparel designed in Munich, Germany, made from Italian fabrics at their production facility in Croatia, their supply and delivery chains are short, which is much better for the planet than masks and other items shipped or flown in from the Far East.
Thirdly, the masks are washable and reusable: they will last for years, so you will not want to discard them after only one use. At the moment, single use medical masks and gloves in eye-wateringly large quantities are finding their way into our water courses and oceans, are littering our public spaces or even hitting our take-away food: “Hot mask and fries to go!”” The throwaway masks – once they have fulfilled their important purpose – have become wasteful pollutants and are a potential health hazard, not only for humans, but also for our wider environment, as this BBC headline states: “Coronavirus: the masks you throw away could end up killing a whale.” 
Masks & Personal Responsibility
Despite political wavering and indecision on wearing face coverings plus the occasional politically partisan politically voice in the USA proclaiming that being required to wear masks is an infringement of civil liberty, even though President Trump has since taken to wearing a face mask, there is no avoiding the fact that wearing a face covering or mask is going to be part of the New Normal from now on: Covid-19 is not going to go away, and there might well be a winter spike that could be greater than what we have suffered to date. Just as we ensure that we have all relevant and necessary items such as house-keys and hand-gel on us when we go out, we will now also need to check, as a matter of course, that we have a face mask or face covering on our person. The World Health Organisation’s General Director repeated at a Covid-19 media briefing, July 2020:
Every individual must understand that they are not helpless – there are things everyone should do to protect themselves and others. Your health is in your hands. That includes physical distancing, hand hygiene, covering coughs, staying home ifyou feel sick, wearing masks when appropriate, and only sharing information from reliable sources.
Using a face mask becomes an imperative as part of our wider Personal Responsibility: it is up to us. The photo shows a discarded single-use face mask by the roadside, either blown from a waste bin by accident or dropped by an uncaring passer-by. Such masks are going to be around for a long time, either decomposing in land-fill (the most likely option) or caught in our hedgerows and waterways. A reusable mask solves this problem as, even at its end of life, the fabric can be recycled and reused for something else.
The way forward is for all of us to take Personal Responsibility, and take good care of ourselves, of others and of our environment:
- Act Sustainably by using washable and reusable masks and face coverings, so ensuring that the single use personal protective equipment items are readily available for health professionals and other key workers;
- Prevent the transfer of the coronavirus to others by using a face mask – it is not always obvious if we are carriers of this nasty pathogen;
- Show that you know the coronavirus is not beaten…and that you are also in the front-line in preventing its spread: to date, over five hundred and fifty thousand people have tragically died as a result of Covid-19 … and the total number of infected persons is still rising, requiring local lockdowns.
Wearing a hyphen sports mouth and nose mask will stop you adding to the problem and help you become part of the solution: this is responsibility in action.
Ivor Hopkins / Responsibility3 Ltd / Hastings / 15.07.20
 John Fowles, A Maggot, (Jonathan Cape, London, 1985, p. 460)
 The UK government is a good example of this, with ministers wearing / not wearing masks, but finally determining that face masks would be compulsory in shops from 24.07.20
 Photo of a strangely fluorescent mask discarded along De la Warr Rd., Bexhill on Sea, 29.06.20 / iPhone 5 / Ivor Hopkins