Inside Disruption Blog

Hostility Erupts Over COVID-19 Mask-Wearing Practices: How to remain safe during hostile encounters

Oscar Villanueva
June 2, 2020




Hostility Erupts Over COVID-19 Mask-Wearing Practices:

How to remain safe during hostile encounters

By Oscar Villanueva

Managing Director of Security Services & Crisis Preparedness at R3 Continuum


A new challenge as we begin to see more people return to public spaces during the COVID-19 crisis is whether to wear a mask in public. Some people believe wearing a mask is necessary to prevent COVID-19 infection to self or others. Others refuse to wear a protective mask believing the  COVID-19 crisis has been blown out of proportion and infection is no more likely than other viruses like the flu already among us.


The official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is to wear a mask in public settings and observe social distancing to prevent infection. These recommendations have been echoed by several other medical and government organizations.


Regardless of which group you belong to on this issue, this difference as to whether to wear or not to wear a mask is impacting all of us and creating friction in public. There are several reports of hostility resulting from both groups coming together in public settings. A recent report from Newtown, CT, is a good example of encounters of this type. A woman shopping at a local store and walking through a designated one-way aisle observed a male shopper not wearing a mask as required by the store. She disagreed with the un-masked shopper and removed her own mask to spit on the man’s face. The police were called, and she was arrested. In a similar incident a man in Highlands County, FL, was arrested for threatening to shoot up a grocery store because not enough people were wearing a mask.


What you need to know to avoid conflict


If you find yourself in a situation like the ones described above, the best way to remain safe and secure is to avoid conflict. Here are some security tips to consider:


  • If at a retail shop or other business and you disagree with the mask-wearing practices of others, communicate your concerns to management and have them address the issue.
  • Accept the other person’s decision to wear or not wear a mask and remove yourself from the situation.
  • If you advocate for wearing a mask and are in contact with a person not wearing one, reference the safety needs of both parties. Use phrases like “wearing a mask is a good idea to keep us both safe from infection.”
  • Work to understand the other person’s position and show empathy.
  • Ask for their cooperation in resolving the issue.
  • If all else fails, walk away.


Hostility management and de-escalation techniques are key to successful outcomes under these circumstances, and training in these disciplines is recommended.


Ensure the physical and psychological safety and security of your organization. Talk to us.

Oscar Villanueva

Managing Director of Security Services & Crisis Preparedness, Oscar

As a former federal security and law enforcement agent and executive, and now security consultant, Mr. Villanueva has led large scale high-performing security, law enforcement and training consulting missions and operations in several large metropolitan areas worldwide including in the U.S.A., Europe, Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. Oscar is bilingual in English and Spanish.

Mr. Villanueva is currently a member of ASIS International and the organization’s Crime Prevention Council. Oscar has also worked in the ASIS Professional Development Council, where he served as immediate past Chair of the Council's mentoring program. Mr. Villanueva is a Member of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP).