Blogs » Ni Howdy - Chinese for Texans » To Mask or Not To Mask


The sister-in-law has successfully been retrieved from the airport and is now sleeping off some of her jet lag. I'm taking the opportunity to connect to the electronic world, because I am one of those people who find it difficult to disconnect even on vacation.

I arrived to Shanghai on Sunday via the small domestic airport, Hongqiao, and picked up my SIL from the large international airport, Pudong. I think these experiences qualify me to make nonscientific generalities about these airports and the people in them. Mostly I just want to talk about H1N1 flu virus scares. Seeing as how there are cases of the virus in China, and pretty much everywhere else, were there more masked travelers than usual? I say "than usual" because in Asia it is not uncommon to see random people on the street and in airports wearing masks. Michael Jackson would not warrant any extra attention here for his mask wearing.

People wear masks here for lots of reasons. When it is very cold outside and you are walking or riding a bicycle, a face mask is very comfortable. The same goes for dusty, windy days, and with the amount of pollutants in the air here, some believe face masks offer some protection against the dirty air. (The truth is most masks here provide no protection to viruses and pollutants - these little creatures can get through surgical masks and those made from fabric.) Sometimes I think masks are a fashion statement, especially the ones in Hello Kitty designs.

I stood waiting in the Pudong arrivals hall for about 30 minutes. During that time, two flights arrived, one from Osaka, Japan and one from Seoul, Korea. The passengers from Osaka wore more masks than I had seen previously. My SIL's flight from Hong Kong was surprisingly free of masks. Overall I would say there is not too much fear or overreaction among the travelers I saw. I base a lot of this opinion on my experience living and working in Toronto during the SARS outbreak. Yes, I worked in a hospital that had SARS patients. Luckily during the time some of those patients were on my unit, I was off-site at a local college doing an acute care training course. On my return, however, I did have to wear a N95 mask for the entirety of my 12 hour shifts. That was not a pleasant time. What was annoying to those of us working in the hospitals was the large number of people arriving to Toronto wearing surgical masks, which were useless against SARS.

Here in Shanghai the sun is out and it is going to be a hot one. I'm taking my sister-in-law to the French Concession neighborhood, which is full of tree-lined lanes, coffee shops and lots of shopping opportunities. Economic crisis? I don't even want to think about it!