• Resolving Problems

My Friend Won’t Wear A Face Mask: What Can I Do?

Published: June 30, 2020 | Last Updated: July 27, 2023 By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
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A reader is upset that her friend won’t wear a face mask when they walk outside and asks what she should do.


My friend lives down the block from me. Ordinarily, we like to walk together from time to time. She’s been texting me to walk with her more regularly now that we are both working from home. I really would like to do this but last time we walked, she wasn’t wearing a mask. I put one on each time I leave the house. What should I do if she won’t wear a mask?

Signed, Pat


Hi Pat,

Although there is less risk of catching the virus outdoors than indoors, your walks might still expose you to some risk if your friend is an asymptomatic carrier. 

The science: COVID-19 spreads mainly through respiratory droplets that linger in the air when people talk, cough or sneeze. In general, the risks of contracting the virus increase the closer you are to an infected person and the more time you spend together. Scientists are learning more about the virus each day but, at present, most agree that maintaining a six-foot distance between you and someone else makes it unlikely you will inhale any infectious droplets lingering in the air. 

So if you both keep a 6-foot distance from one another, don’t sneeze or cough (which might propel the droplets) and don’t yell at one another, you both should be relatively safe. Although your wearing a face mask primarily protects others, there is evidence that suggests it also offers you some degree of protection.

Yet, many people choose to wear masks whenever they’re outside. You might ask, why not? 

The medical journal, The Lancet, recently published a seminal report reviewing 172 observational studies on the effectiveness of social distancing, face masks and eye protection in mitigating the effects of the virus. Two conclusions: These simple measures make a difference, and although face masks alone can’t totally protect you, they do add another layer of protection.

My guess is that you and your walking buddy probably have different notions about the spread of the virus and your personal risk. Some people want to do everything they can to protect themselves; others think the risks of infection are greatly exaggerated by the media and/or that they are already doing what’s necessary.

I suspect that these differences between you and your friend are probably more pervasive than mask-wearing alone. Based on your personality, health status and/or politics, you may be more risk-aversive than she.

So, have you politely asked your friend if she could wear a mask during your walks so you will feel safer?

If so, and she has declined, your options are limited. You need to evaluate whether the pleasure you get from these walks and her company are worth the angst and possible risks they entail from your perspective. 

Good luck!

Best, Irene

Have you had irreconcilable differences with friends about pandemic behavior?

Previously on The Friendship Blog:

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Comments (6)

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  1. Flavia says:

    Asked my friend to wear a mask in my car (I have COPD) when I took her grocery shopping. She doesn’t drive and I always took her shopping with me. As we were going to the store, she criticized me wearing a mask in my car, but she kept hers on. But as we were coming home…with the A/C on, she took off her mask. And made jokes about it. I refuse to take her again. Our “friendship” is waning. Apparently she has no respect for my request and that’s means no respect for our friendship. Oh well,

    • Irene says:

      Someone with such disregard for your health and your feelings isn’t a true friend.

      • Siobhan says:

        I really appreciate your response to Flavia. I recently had a similar experience where a friend was upset with me because I didn’t want to come inside her house for what we had previously agreed would be an outdoor -only visit. Turns out she wanted to show me some new piece of furniture.

        It was painful for me to realize that her excitement to show me her furniture was more important than my sense of safety, which I had made very clear more than once. She belittled my concern by throwing up her hands and saying, why can’t you just come inside for a little while?

        This friendship ended —it was not the first time she had applied pressure on me to do something I said I did not want to do for safety’s sake regarding the pandemic. As a “people pleaser” it was hard for me, on one level, to end the friendship, but so clearly necessary to do it, because I realized she was not a true friend.

        Your Friendship Blog is so helpful—thank you for it.

  2. sheryl says:

    Good advice. I find it so sad and frustrating that there is so much dissension between people when it comes to listening to sensible, evidence-based advice. Unfortunately this issue has caused a huge rift in one of my long-time friendships.

  3. Pink Amy says:

    My friends any I wear masks if we can’t social distance by six feet when we’re outside. If we’re six feet apart, we don’t wear them which is in accordance with what the rules of my state. Does your friend know that you only want to walk with her if she wears a mask?

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