San Luis Obispo, CA

An Open Letter to the Unmasked Man in the Local Grocery Store Pharmacy in San Luis Obispo

Michael Burg, MD

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This all just happened in my SLO neighborhood grocery store, in the pharmacy line. I'll not name the store because I don't want to call it, or its employees, out, but I do wish to address you, my unmasked neighbor.

***

"Sir" I asked gently, from about an eight-foot distance, "Where's your mask?"

He instantly whirled around to fully face me and, taking an aggressive step forward (while I reflexively stepped back), pointed and poked his right index finger at me and spat out "How 'bout if you mind your own business and I'll mind mine, huh?"

"But sir there's a mask requirement in this store."

"No there isn't." said the now visibly-agitated unmasked man.

At this point another customer added "I feel uncomfortable too with you not wearing a mask." He was ignored.

Then, the unmasked fellow turned back around and approached the pharmacy counter. The clerk there said nothing about his unmasked status, and waited on him.

I left to notify the store manager.

I did not stick around to see the outcome of that interaction, if an interaction happened at all.

Your decision - not to mask

I can only speculate on what led up to your decision not to mask in a crowded public place. There are many posted signs stating that masks are required. True for every business in SLO county. Everyone around you is masked. Then there’s the fact that we’re still in the midst of a deadly pandemic, one that has claimed over 550,000 American lives.

Your behavior - being unmasked

That I can comment on.

Experts of every description—policy makers, virologists, physicians, scientists, public health officials and others—have unequivocally determined that masks help lessen the risk of viral spread and virally-caused disease. Extension of that logic is that masks then also help reduce hospitalizations and risk of death from viral illness, particularly COVID-19.

When I politely reached out to you, you did not know that you were speaking with a 65-year-old physician. The other person who spoke to you was a frail-appearing, obese man who appeared to be in his 70s. If we get a COVID infection we’re at a higher-than-average risk of death.

Additionally, and I looked, another half dozen elderly people were in close proximity, in a pharmacy, implying that they may have underlying illness that would put them at increased risk were they to contract COVID-19. The pharmacy clerk and staff you approached were all within several feet of your unmasked face.

Then there’s your risk of illness to be considered. You are completely unprotected.

Your behavior - please reconsider

Given all the evidence and our present pandemic state, your decision to be unmasked in a crowded public space is illogical, extremely inconsiderate, frankly dangerous and highly unintelligent. There is no rational explanation for your unmasked presence in the store’s pharmacy area, the store, or any public place for that matter.

I did consider that you might be either psychiatrically impaired or under the influence of intoxicants (or both), but having seen thousands who were during my 30 years of clinical practice, you seemed to be neither.

So, please follow posted, legal, well-accepted and well-considered mandates about masking in public places in SLO county. No one can say with certainty, but it seems that with rising vaccination rates and other measures we may be finally winning the war against COVID. It may be that guidelines will change and loosen in the coming months.

Your aggression

In much the same way as someone might politely and reasonably ask that you not kick the back of their movie theater seat, you were asked about your mask.

Given the circumstances, you could have exited the building, gotten a mask from your car, or gotten a mask from the pharmacy staff and perhaps apologized for your egregious behavior to me and others in the vicinity. You did none of those things.

Instead you became instantly and unreasonably aggressive (potentially heightening the danger of an already dangerous situation), then behaved like a petulant child.

Your behavior showed how little you care for other members of this wonderful vibrant community. You should be ashamed of your thoughtless dangerous actions. They put us all at unnecessary risk.

Please think about how you’ll behave in the future so that you and others around you stay safe and healthy during these difficult times.

Thank you for listening.

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San Luis Obispo, CA
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