Norway and the other Nordic countries have not recommended the use of face masks in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Many other countries have not only recommended face masks, but even made them mandatory in many situations and locations where people meet.
The virus and the available research on the effect of various infection control measures are the same, so why do attitudes differ so much?
Since mid-May the public in Norway have been advised to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, such as supermarkets, where it can be difficult to follow social distancing rules. Use of face mask (munnbind) in Norway is control spread of COVID-19 and other Disease.
The Government of Norway is growing evidence that wearing them helps protect individuals and those around them from the virus.
Clothes are not just clothes
Clothes fulfill many different functions, and this is also true of face masks and other equipment that partially covers the face.
Balaclavas and cold weather masks are used for protection against the cold. Scarves and shawls are used in desert and steppe areas to protect the face against sand and wind. Diving masks, welding masks and gas masks are specialized protection against water, gas, sparks and heat. In war and sports, the face is often protected against punches or weapons. Medieval plague masks and modern face masks are used for protection against disease and infection.
Clothing can also be used to protect the body from the gaze of others. This is an important function in many religions, but there is also the function of protecting other people from an unpleasant sight, as in the case of an eye patch covering a missing eye.
Clothes can cover the body to prevent identification, or to give the person wearing them a different character or personality. Masks are important in the theatre, religious rituals and processions. This is closely linked to the mask’s function as a means of concealing one’s identity.
Terrorist organizations can have special clothes that do not only prevent the members from being identified, but also create a group identity. One such example is the pointed white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), with holes for the eyes.
But garments can be developed for one purpose and used for something completely different, as in the case of the balaclava, a knitted hat that covers the head and neck, which has been adopted by bank robbers. In connection with the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen many different garments used for infection control purposes, from snoods and scarves to surgical face masks, diving masks and gas masks.
Face masks as protection against infection
Medieval plague masks were used by doctors who tended to and registered plague patients. The plague doctors wore a mask with a long beak stuffed with fragrant materials, as well as a long coat, hood, gloves and high boots.
The practice of using face masks to prevent infection in hospitals started in the late 19th century. It was introduced by the Polish surgeon Jan Mikulicz-Radecki in 1897. He is also known for several other improvements to surgical practice.
During the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918–1920, surgical masks began to also be used outside of a hospital setting. Several American cities legalized wearing face masks in public, which had previously been prohibited to stop the KKK.