“Wearing a mask is important. It is a sign of compassion”

Newbury optometrist, Dr Valarie Jerome, speaks with OT  about the viral response to a Tweet after turning away a patient without a face mask

face masks

In October, Newbury optometrist Dr Valarie Jerome posted a Tweet on her lunch break about turning away a patient who refused to wear a face mask during a sight test.

By the following morning, the post had more than 7000 likes and hundreds of comments. Alongside messages of support, Dr Jerome faced a backlash of verbal abuse from those opposed to the enforcement of mask wearing. Below Dr Jerome shares her experience.

We have a locked door policy at our practice. A woman came to the door and asked ‘Can I be seen for an eye examination without a mask?’ She didn’t say anything about an exemption. My assistant was a bit taken aback so she came to the consulting room to ask me. I was perplexed. Do people complain about the mask? Absolutely. It is part of the ongoing banter. But they don’t generally refuse to wear one. After a brief discussion, the woman left the practice.

I was looking at something on Twitter during my lunch break and wrote a simple statement saying that I thought I had my first anti-masker today. I don’t have that many followers and it is mostly people in the optometry industry, local Newbury people and my friends. I didn’t think anything of it.

Newbury optometrist Dr Valarie Jerome

At the end of the day, I happened to open up my Twitter again and it said that I had 500 likes on the comment. My assistant said ‘I think that might be going viral.’ Then I woke up the next morning and there was 7000 likes, hundreds of comments and loads of re-tweets. I was scrolling through, thinking I needed to write back to these people. Then I started seeing four letter words, things I had never been called in my life before. It was every derogatory and vile word that you can think of. I was called a sheep, a Nazi and a nasty woman. Someone left me a fake Google review after there was a call to action among the anti-masker groups to target my business. I was on two local radio stations about the viral tweet, a national radio station and BBC South Today.

My grandfather was disabled with polio and one of my best friends here has muscular dystrophy. We deal with people every day who may have a visual disability. To be accused of not being compassionate and being discriminatory – it really plays on your mind. I honestly did not think that there would be anyone who would be verbally abusing me for wanting a patient to have a mask on when I perform an eye examination. I think it really surprised me. I am not a confrontational type of person.

As optometrists, we cannot socially distance due to the nature of the job. I have an extremely high-risk step son, I don’t take any risks. Wearing a mask is important. It is a sign of compassion. You are willing to protect someone else from your germs and they can return the favour. Optometrists are close to the faces of patients all day long. We are just doing our job – protecting our patients and protecting ourselves.