Spend any time in Asia and you become accustomed to the mask as part of the (dress) culture. In my younger years, we only saw them worn only in hospitals, by doctors and nurses, to protect those they were working on from germs they might be carrying.
Riding motorcycle trips throughout the Southwest USA, I frequently wore a bandana which hung from my upper nose and covered my face. It was a mask for sun protection and doubled as a wet cloth when I need it. In the Middle East, some tribes of Arab women wear masks for religious reasons.
Now though, it’s become a trend to wear them as prevention from sucking in undesirable particles. Airborne epidemics, pollen, and pollution have spread their popularity.
In China, where I am today, there is a pollution alert. It’s a breezy, hazy, sunny day. Perhaps because cigarette smoking is so common, (in all eating establishments including the kitchens and elevators, precious few places are smoke-free), a surprisingly small percent of people wear masks. But in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, much larger portions of the population sport the surgical mask look. Thing is, for pollution, unless the mask is airtight with a quality filter, the thin fabric typically worn doesn’t filter the dangerous, smaller particles.
In Japan, an even higher percent wear masks, not for pollution, but rather to prevent sickness, either from a virus or allergic pollen. Many in that culture are more comfortable wearing masks in public as a habit, no worries about facial appearance (no makeup needed), less chance interaction with a stranger, and in the process, might even prevent something contageous. A good portion of the younger generation are content with ear plugs and eyes glued to a smart phone and face conveniently covered by a mask.
Sure there are times when it’s prudent to make sure we don’t accidentally breath or swallow something nasty. It’s surely nice to see food prep folks wearing them so as to prevent the otherwise inevitable and unintentional shared spittle that would end up as part of what we consume.
On the other hand, it seems that prolific use of this mouth and nose shield is a little neurotic that it has become a common wardrobe accessory.
As a (human) race, the face is the principle method of non-verbal communication. It’s kind of ashame that we are slowly covering up that connection.