In an attempt to convince Berliners to wear their masks properly while on public transport, the BVG, the company that runs the city’s U-Bahn, trams, and buses has a new approach according to a report from Deutsche Welle: encouraging riders to forgo deodorant.
In a tweet sent earlier this week that for all intents and purposes resembles any other official policy advisory by the BVG, the company bluntly said “you leave us no choice” but to forbid deodorant.
The logic goes like this. In order to stymie the spread of covid-19 but ease lockdown restrictions, Berlin (and the rest of Germany) has instituted a mandatory mask policy in public spaces, including on public transport just like most other cities around the world. While compliance has been high, and fines for neglecting to mask up are even higher, many aren’t wearing their masks properly, covering only their mouths while leaving their noses exposed. That’s a big problem. Probably bigger than you think.
Since our mouths and noses are ultimately connected to the same respiratory system, covering one but not the other drastically undercuts the effectiveness of mask-wearing. That’s where the deodorant (or more specifically, the lack of it) comes in. If passengers are encouraged to allow the natural scent of their body to develop and flower unabated, especially as the summer wears on in a largely non-air-conditioned city, they will provide one another with the encouragement they need to keep their faces fully covered and protected from vile odor and virus alike.
Though Germany as a whole has done incredibly well keeping infection rates low since early on in the pandemic, Berlin has shown itself to be a hotspot of new infections, and that’s why public transportation officials are so eager to get people to properly comply with the mask policy. This is especially when public transport ridership has already rebounded quickly, with early June statistics already showing that utilization has crested 50% of pre-pandemic levels.
Here in America, where the situation is far graver, ridership hasn’t rebounded quite as quickly. Still, as New York City continues to see a steady drop in infections and gradually reopen its economy, subways cars will start to fill up here too. Experts have told the New York Times that a combination of factors including ventilation and crowding will mean that riding public transport will always pose a risk as long as the pandemic continues, but that proper mask usage has seemed to have prevented major outbreaks on trains and buses in large cities in Asia as well as others in Europe, including Berlin, where ridership is back again.
Hopefully, New Yorkers and straphangers in other cities will be able to internalize the importance of properly masking up before a deodorant ban is necessary to keep them in line. Though I do believe the normal rancid smell of the subway might do the trick on its own.