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Wearing mask in the workplace: a survival guide

France will make the wearing of a mask mandatory in all workplaces from September 1.

New government rules include all shared, enclosed workspaces (open-plan or shared offices, corridors, meeting rooms, and changing rooms).

Until now, only public spaces were affected by the requirement.

“The latest scientific knowledge about the possible risk of transmission of the virus via aerosols leads us to adopt a general principle of the systematic wearing of masks in indoor, shared workspaces,” said Laurent Pietraszewski, secretary of state for worker health.

But how practical and easy is it to wear a face mask at work? Dailyrater has asked some of those who have already done so.

Juliette Astié, communication manager — Paris

"It's like wearing a scarf or a hat, it's not that excruciating," says Astié, who has been wearing a mask in her office in the Centre for Creative Technologies (TUMO) since May.

Even though she does not always meet visitors or students face to face, Astié understands the need for it and has implemented it of her own volition for some months.

"I'd rather wear a mask than experience another lockup," she told Dailyrater.

In her experience, others have followed suit, although those who do not commute using public transport "took longer to get into the habit".

But it has become the new normal for her. She even forgets sometimes that she has it on.

"It's just a question of getting used to it", Juliette says. "You just need to speak up in staff meetings."

Lucie Renaud, physiotherapist — Angers

As a physiotherapist in the French western city of Angers, Renaud was one of the first frontline workers that was required to wear a mask at work.

"As we're seeing patients, we can only put if off when alone," she told Dailyrater.

"I didn't reckon I'd get used to it but I did," she added.

There has only been one exception - when speaking to a colleague who is hard of hearing.

Wearing a mask made her change the way she works. "I have my patients exercise differently, with easier movements so breathing through the mask won't be an issue," she says.

But while she completely understands the necessity to wear a mask at work, Renaud regrets that it widens the gap between nursing staff and patient.

"The masks add some more distance to the therapeutic hierarchy that the white coat we wear already builds," she argues.

More practically, she says, it means that she is unable to see whether her patients are in pain - a useful observation in her profession.

Nolwenn Saluden, nurse — Mamoudzou

Nolwenn Saluden recently moved to the overseas French department of Mayotte, a small island near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

For months, she was required to continuously wear a mask, only taking it off every four hours to change it. She chose to use surgical masks at work to deal with the heat.

She's come up with some other tricks too.

"Put compresses behind your ears to relieve the pressure at the back of your head," she says.

On the one hand, wearing a mask makes her feel better for she often finds out the patients she has encountered were tested positive for COVID-19.

"I'm not afraid about contracting it but about spreading it instead," she explains.

But on the other, Nolwenn finds that masks obstruct the ways in which people show what they mean other than by the words they use, their expressions, their breathing, and so on.

"Not only it prevents communication with deaf people who will lip-read, but it's also been difficult with the elderly," she says.

Despite the pitfalls, however, she wonders whether wearing a mask should be compulsory for hospital workers even when coronavirus is a distant memory.

"I even wonder whether this should not always be the rule, as coronavirus is not the only infection that may be working around the hospital," she says.

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