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Customers should stop abusing employees for enforcing mask rules that protect all of us

I work in retail at a shop and am a bartender at a local brewery. I have to admit, I’m pretty tired of wearing a mask. Many of my shifts are 10 hours long, and the only time I take off my mask is when using the bathroom, eating food, or taking a quick sip of water.

The results are not so great. I get frequent headaches – a combination of increased CO2 inhalation and mask ear loops putting pressure on my head – my lips are cracked and peeling, and my skin hasn’t been this bad since I was 15. I have trouble hearing customers and they have trouble hearing me.

Worst of all, I am at the forefront of every encounter where a person without a mask walks into the store.

These maskless individuals always seem shocked when I ask them to step out of the store because they aren’t wearing a mask – despite the myriad signs on the door that demand mask wearing to enter the premises. I’ve been shouted at, flipped off, cussed out and lectured to for weeks – all for implementing a policy that wasn’t my choice. New Mexico has implemented a mask-wearing mandate, and the businesses I work for comply with the policy to keep workers and customers safe.

The mandate states that everyone must wear a mask while in a public space except while exercising, eating or drinking. This means that on the way to a table or even the restroom you must wear a mask to protect yourself and others, even in a dining establishment.

I try to keep a cool head and be as polite as possible when faced with a belligerent customer, but when someone tells me to “f— off” when I ask them to put on a mask, it’s hard not to be hurt.

I’m starting to wear thin. The constant fights with customers and the barrage of verbal abuse I receive leaves me exhausted and sad most days. It’s nearly impossible to keep a positive attitude when people fight with you over something you didn’t choose.

When I was initially laid off from my jobs, I collected unemployment greater than what I earn at work now. I could still be collecting that unemployment, but I chose to return to work to serve my community – to serve you. I am thankful to have a job and know I am lucky that my biggest complaint right now is rude customers. I just wish I could get through a shift without facing an aggressive argument.

For the record, I believe mask-wearing is a good idea and is beneficial during this time. I wear a mask in public because it keeps myself and others safe. Some servers and retail workers may not agree and may feel that mask-wearing is pointless, but these workers still comply with the rules because it is part of the job. Businesses can be fined or face criminal charges if found to be noncompliant with these rules.

There isn’t an end in sight with this virus. Experts say that until we have a vaccine, this new way of life should be enforced. My ultimate point is this: Get used to the masks, they’re here to stay.

I am appreciative of the individuals who comply and take this mandate seriously. For the rest of you, stop whining about having to wear a mask for the 30 minutes you’re inside a store. I wear a mask 10 hours a day to protect you; why am I not valuable enough to protect back?

The dehumanization of service workers is longstanding – and worse now than ever. So be kind to the people who serve you, they’re human beings who deserve respect and compassion. We’re a community and we’re in this together. It’s time to start acting like it.

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