Coronavirus (1112) Face Masks: Their History and the Values They Communicate

17 January, 2021

Dear HIFA colleagues,

Interesting paper in the Journal of Health Communication. Unfortunately the full text is behind a paywall. I have invited the authors to join us.

CITATION: J Health Commun. 2021 Jan 12:1-6. doi: 10.1080/10810730.2020.1867257. Online ahead of print.

Face Masks: Their History and the Values They Communicate.

Ike JD(1), Bayerle H(2), Logan RA(3), Parker RM(4).


Masks, now recommended and worn by a growing proportion of the world's population, have reflected various perceived meaning across time. This paper provides a brief history of the socio-cultural perceptions attached to wearing a mask by surveying how masks were perceived in ancient Greece and Rome, the origins of medical masks, and the ascribed socio-cultural meaning of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of a mask has historically diverse perceived meanings; currently, wearing a mask communicates a bipolar socio-cultural meaning and a nuanced, divisive symbology. To some, masks communicate a belief in medical science and a desire to protect one's neighbor from contagion. To others, a mask communicates oppression, government overreach, and a skepticism toward established scientific principles. It is the mask's ability to signal a deception, or extrapolated more broadly, a value system, that is highly relevant to current public health guidelines encouraging mask use to decrease the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Public health officials and providers should utilize evidence-based health communication strategies when findings warrant a reversed recommendation of a symbol (such as masks) with a legacy of socio-cultural underpinnings that are deep-seated, complex, and emotional.

Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA project on COVID-19, supported by University of Edinburgh

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: