Even though every country, and every citizen within those countries, seems to have a slightly different take on what constitutes proper COVID-19 protocols, one thing remains universal: A preponderance of magical thinking about what will and won’t protect us from disease transmission. Trendspotting in South Korea has identified a new mask style, “kosk,” which essentially institutionalizes the improper practice of using a mask to cover one’s nose or mouth, but not both.
Kosk masks look like a little bra for mid-face, securely covering the nose, but conveniently leaving the wearer’s mouth unencumbered and free to eat, drink, and, you know, contract a highly contagious airborne disease.
The most popular version of these masks — called “kosk” in a combination of ko, the Korean word for nose, and mask — are produced by a company called Atman and sell for 9,800 won ($8.18) for a box of 10. It’s kind of the sexy separates of unsafe masking practices, with two pieces, one of which can be removed to leave the mouth uncovered, like a little striptease to tempt disease transmission.
It is unclear why people imagine that covering only one-half of the same respiratory system is an effective way to protect against COVID-19 transmission, but this new approach may be in part responsible for new coronavirus cases in South Korea, with numbers hitting a record 22,907 earlier this week.
In fairness, though, wearing a kosk is equally as ineffective as wearing a COVID mask under the nose, a common practice in places with much higher daily case rates than South Korea. Not to mention the most magical thinking of all: People who wear masks while waiting for a table at restaurants, but then take them off while dining (as we know, COVID-19 cannot get you while you are sitting at a table).
South Korea has registered a relatively low 6,812 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, a death rate of 133 per million, compared to 2,300 per million in the United Kingdom and 2,747 in the United States. At least wearing a kosk is half-acknowledgment that COVID-19 exists and can be mitigated by wearing a face covering. That’s still half-better than millions upon millions of North Americans, who continue laughing off disease science all the way to the ICU. So maybe we should all strap on our little face bras and prepare to face another year of magical thinking with the poise of Joan Didion (RIP).