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The psychology behind what Murphy calls ‘mask sloppiness’

Gov, Phil Murphy wears a mask at a daily coronavirus briefing
(Tariq Zehawi/The Record via AP, Pool)

Last week, Gov. Murphy issued an Executive Order requiring face coverings be worn in public when social distancing is not possible or practical.

Murphy indicated one of the main reasons the directive was issued is the increasing amount of “mask sloppiness,” which includes wearing face coverings below the nose, having the mask only covering the chin or hanging limp from one ear.

All of those scenarios mean the mask is not doing what it’s supposed to, which is to stop infectious droplets from being exhaled out of your mouth and nose, while also protecting you from droplets from others around you.

According to psychologist Stephen Tobias, the director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown, one reason an increasing number of New Jerseyans are not covering their entire nose and mouth with their mask is they are being worn down by stress.

He says stressful situations like the ones we’ve faced over the past four months during the COVID-19 pandemic are cumulative.

“You don’t get used to them, you don’t adapt to them, so it’s not like the more this goes on the more we’re used to it,” he said.

“The longer it goes on the more stressful it is, the more difficulty people have in terms of dealing with it emotionally.”

“As the stress increases more and more, there’s denial of it,” he added.

Tobias said that kind of attitude is dangerous.

“It certainly is becoming more and more difficult, but the way to deal with that isn’t by denial and avoidance of it,” he said. “What’s important is people recognize the stress but also find better ways of dealing with it, to use their time productively.”

He stressed we’ve got to buckle down and do the things that are going to safeguard our own health and our families health.

He noted we tend to be a country of individualists so “we value the individual identity more than the collective.”

“In other countries, they’re willing to wear masks for the good of the whole,” said Tobias. “But we are more focused on our individual liberties and interests and not necessarily the good of the whole community.”

He said that when we see some national leaders not wearing masks it sends a message that it’s OK for us to behave in the same way.

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