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Men at Greater COVID-19 Risk Because of Attitudes Toward Health

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Friday, June 26, 2020   

SEATTLE - Many men believe they're less vulnerable to COVID-19, and that has consequences for how safe they really are during the pandemic.

A new survey conducted in the U.S. and U.K. finds women are more likely to wear face masks than men. Family medicine physician Dr. Scott Itano with Kaiser Permanente Washington says the issue is what he calls "toxic masculinity" - viewing manliness through a traditional lens in which men have to be brave and self-reliant at all times.

"They're less likely to be vulnerable or show signs of weakness," says Itano. "And I think wearing masks and seeking care from a doctor, to them, feels like showing a sign of weakness or being vulnerable."

Unfortunately, he says, this mind-set could come at a high cost. According to Washington State Department of Health data, 54% of COVID-19-related deaths have been men.

Starting today, face masks are required in public in Washington.

Itano says people don't just put themselves at risk when they don't follow proper precautions to avoid novel coronavirus exposure - they risk other people's lives, too.

"Even though a person might be a young, healthy 35-year-old man,," says Itano, "he could have grandparents or loved ones, or friends who are immunocompromised or at high risk for complications."

Itano says men's COVID-19 attitudes extend to how they manage their health in other ways. He says it's often difficult to get men to come in for check-ups.

He suggests they seek out the right doctor for them.

"Ask your buddies who they go to for their medical care and check bios online," says Itano. "Most systems and doctors have online profiles, where you can read about them and find someone you think you might get along with."

He adds it isn't helpful to be confrontational about COVID-19 or self-care in general. Itano usually thanks his male patients for making the effort to come in and see him.

Disclosure: Kaiser Health Plan of Washington Project contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Health Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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