Keeping Those Pig Flu Germs Off Your Face

Thursday, April 30, 2009


I finally saw my first mask-wearing subway riders today - one guy, and a couple seats away, the woman you see here, in this highly atmospheric and stylized photo. That was in the morning. This afternoon, I saw another woman walk out of a station with a mask on. That makes a grand total of three New Yorkers with masks on, which, if you think about it, isn't a whole lot, given the pandemic-level attention the swine flu has received.

Should more New Yorkers be wearing masks right now?

I put the question to a few people on the street. An actor I spoke to, Jeremy Beiler, said YES, they should be, and that he's not so comfortable riding the subway because it's such a 'petri dish' and no one's wearing masks.

'I haven't seen anyone with masks on, but it seems brazenly American to not wear masks,' he said.

But another guy I interviewed, a corporate chef named Mike Passotti, thinks the idea of wearing masks is silly, and would only reflect the media's swine flu hype.

'The media needs something to put on the front page,' he said. 'They need to scare us more. That's what I get out of it.'

So, what's your take? Are we going to see more New Yorkers wearing masks in the coming days, as more pharmacies replenish their stock (I checked a couple stores, and they ran out days ago)? Or are we so fashion-conscious in this city that we need people to actually die of the swine flu before we take that step?


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Comments [10]


i just watched the bbc commercial mentioned by poster marie @ 822 above, it explains the tissue throw out.
again this only helps stop the person with the virus from spreading it.
the stainless steel on the subways will keep the germs alive for 6 hours, so that could be quite a few people infected.there was a article abiut usung copper as handrails and such since like silver it has germ killing properties.
i think glasses and gloves should be worn in these places, you can use the alcohol gel on the gloves.

May. 01 2009 03:00 PM

i did some research last night on the mask. this was one of my concerns traveling in a packed subway, where your face is withing 4 feet of 6 or more peoples face.
the mask that people are wearing only prevents them for spreading a cough.
if you wear a mask thinking you are taking a safety measure, it wont work. the particles will pass through, and the heat and sweat of your face will probably make the mask damp and there is more of a chance for the cough/spit to adhere.
a couple reports say that a person coughing within 1 meter, will spread the virus to you. other reports say more real life conditions would be 6 feet, considering a breeze or fan or airflow.
i remember thinking about how far a cough would travel about 2 months ago, when sitting in a ENT doctors office. In the waiting room there was a section where the chairs were about the 6 foot mark, separating facing patients. i was watching these people across from me cough , and wondering?
sure enough within a week i was sick as a dog.
if everyone wore a mask transmittal rates would decline.
to protect yourself you would need to wear a respirator with a filter designed not to pass the virus particles.
Any military member remembers that we had different filters for different biological or chemical agents.
a lot of the information the city is spreading i question. for instance they say when you blow your nose make sure you throw away the tissue.
if you have the virus in your snot , does it matter anymore what you do with your tissue?

May. 01 2009 02:50 PM

American's are too insecure to wear the mask, afraid they will look stupid. American's are too insecure to carry a milk carton down the block if it's not in a bag.

A New Yorker

May. 01 2009 09:53 AM

(More info related to previous comment from the NYer in Paris.)

Check out the “Edition du 30 Avril 2009” the France2 news show at 20h. (8pm) at, especially the segment “Pr. François Bricaire, chef de service à la Pitié-Salpétrière” during which he and his colleague talk about the masks.

This discussion of masks is reiterated on the BBC web site, where John McConnell, editor of the Lancet Infectious Diseases medical journal, answers questions about the epidemic:

Also check out the announcement about sneezing from the British government, on BBC web site: -- way to go Brits!

May. 01 2009 08:22 AM

I'm a New Yorker currently living in Paris and what some doctors who appeared on the TV news here pointed out is that the surgical masks you see people wearing in a lot of footage and pictures don't protect the wearer very much, if at all. They are actually better for protecting other people from getting germs from the person wearing the mask. There's a different kind of mask that protects the wearer -- it looks sort of like a duck's beak. I think it would be a good idea for there to be announcements and posters encouraging people to cover their nose and mouth when they need to cough and sneeze. So many people don't do that and that is where the spreading of disease happens -- not just now, but all the time! So I will not be wearing a surgical mask either here or when I return to NYC, but I will be carrying my pack of Kleenex, and if I get sick I will wear a mask to protect others. (Which by the way is what the Japanese have always done -- how civilized!)

May. 01 2009 08:01 AM

I'm not going to wear a mask unless it's necessary (or perhaps if it's a pig snout). Right now I think people are falling prey to sensationalism. I saw a man cough on the subway yesterday and could feel the daggers that other riders were throwing at him with their eyes. Poor guy.

May. 01 2009 07:58 AM

I'd like to see a mask in the shape of a pig snout. Maybe then I'd wear a mask. In the meantime, I'll make do with washing my hands.

May. 01 2009 07:09 AM

I'm a transit user who won't be wearing a mask. However, even before this swine flu panic I've used hand sanitizer after exiting the train. We've got the regular germs and the Gross Out Factor of behaviors like nose picking, etc., and the bums who live on the subways or at least sleep there.

May. 01 2009 06:01 AM

As a musician with Music Under New York program, I just finished singing 3 hours at the Shuttle station at Grand Central Station today. There were a few people with masks, but that's a good idea for any flu. I do think seeing someone wear a mask doesn't instill confidence. It should be seen as a sign of protection. Unfortunately this is NYC, remember ground zero and all those amazing workers who dug for days without masks or protection?-it wasn't cool. I'm also disappointed with Biden’s comments on the Today Show. His words didn't stop me, I had a great day!!!

Apr. 30 2009 05:44 PM

Even under normal conditions, I avoid touching anything on the filthy mass transit system.
Unfortunately, I only ride trains on weekend trips. I will proudly wear my mask.

How often do they DISINFECT train interiors?
You can see the dirt on the plastic seats (wear homeless poop).

Apr. 30 2009 05:32 PM

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