Making the ‘Mask Ask’ of Your Family and Friends

By: Brandon Szuminsky

When it comes to the potential spread of COVID-19, gatherings with people from outside your household contain an element of risk. With that in mind, the safest way to approach Thanksgiving this year is to skip the meal with anyone but those you currently live with and to celebrate virtually with extended family and friends.

If you are attending a holiday gathering, there are several steps you can take to minimize the risk of transmission, including masking. Dr. Gina Perez, associate chief, Behavioral Health Network and Telepsychiatry, UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, acknowledges it can be difficult to make the “mask ask” of your guests.

Here are some ways to approach these crucial conversations with your friends and family:

Plan ah​​​​ead and avoid ad libs

Address your expectation for masking before the family gathers. Use a group text or call to emphasize the importance of everyone wearing a mask when not actively eating or drinking.

Perez advises preparing for those conversations in advance and addressing them before they arise to eliminate the pressure to ad lib on the spot.

Address oddness and​​ explain the why

To some, masking in their own home with family members seems strange. Perez encourages addressing that this is not normally how the family interacts and explaining that you’re setting expectations for everyone’s well-being. Households are a significant source of transmission, and even those who feel fine can potentially infect others.

Perez recommends approaching the conversation ahead of a gathering with a framing of, “I know this seems weird, but when I see you, this is what I’m going to do because I want everyone to be safe.”

Be the model and ​speak up for safety

Model distancing and proper masking for your guests and be ready to speak up if people are not spacing or wearing masks correctly. Guilt is not the goal. Behaviors can be redirected by putting an emphasis on reducing risk rather than correcting and putting someone on the defensive.

Simply acknowledging this is new and frustrating before offering safety guidance can make it a ”we” conversation rather than a “you” critique, Perez says.

Address Efficacy and Rein​force Affection

Unfortunately, misconceptions remain about masking. If necessary, emphasize the evidence that masking works and that masks protect both the wearer and those around them.

With family, it can be powerful to enforce masking as a gesture of caring for those you’re with, Perez says. Rather than highlighting masking as a rule or state order, present it as taking precautions “because I love you and don’t want you to get COVID.”

Click here for additional tips on how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely.