Facial Identity in COVID times

The face is the most distinctive part of a human being and therefore serves as most important physical feature for identification. Ordinarily, we recognise people by their faces. In these times of COVID and mask-wearing, I have wondered what features of the face actually make for identification or recognition.

Most dictionaries define the human face as “the front part of a person’s head from the forehead to the chin”. This would include the eyes, the mouth (lips), the nose the ears, the cheeks and other features of the face. Variations in the forehead, nose, mouth, eyes, cheeks and ears, are used to recognize one another and to distinguish one person from another. The facial muscles often help to display facial expressions that can show what we are feeling, our emotions, or what goes on in our minds at the time. Facial expression can show joy, sadness, surprise, anger etc, and can even be means of communicating with one another.

Masks in shopping malls

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, partial covering of the face by wearing masks has been enforced all over the world. The mask is required to cover your nose, your mouth, cheeks, and down below your chin. I have wondered how we still recognise one another.

Masks in Public Transportation

What part or parts of the face are actually important in recognition and identity? I have watched masked mothers with little babies in the pram. I have witnessed a mother in the bus, trying to kiss the baby while wearing the mask. I have wondered if the baby knows when the mother is smiling.

In present times, the Biometric or e-Passports have been introduced and used all over the world. One of the advantages is that the a machine at a country’s entry border or immigration check point scans your passport and matches data on it with your face, using facial recognition technology. Many other e-devices use facial recognition to allow access. How does this now work with the mask on?

The photo at the top of this write-up shows my two grand daughters, Melissa and Michelle. I can definitely recognize each one. I can even see that Melissa is smilling! So, what parts of the face are really necessary for recognition and identification?

Please feel free to share your comments and ideas.

FFP2 Mask

4 thoughts on “Facial Identity in COVID times

  1. Just happy I could tell the1st photo was your grandkids cos of your previous FB posts, lol. There’s hope after all even with the masks. Good morning aunty Phil

  2. A lovely peice Aunty, I recognised your gorgeous granddaughters right away and without thought, it shows that as human beings we are a lot more observant subconciously than we often realise.
    We adapt to situations and humanly rely on underlying conciousness to guide us instinctively in a number of situations. A friendly smile from a stranger on the street, joy or anger silently expressed with the curve of the brow or the crinkle of the eye, these things are not lost on us even with half of the face gone…
    However, deeper nuances are certainly harder to ascertain and thus intentions harder to interpret, I recall one business owner in the news lamenting the effects on the shopfloor where staff were having difficulty interpreting the intentions or interests of customers as they were unable to read their expressions as they attempted to guide them through choices in the hope of a resultant purchase. Perhaps one of the positive outcomes is that we have learned to pay less attention to physical features (facial at least) and deeper attention to what people are saying, how they are expressing their needs – perhaps we have learned to express ourselves more sincerely or clearly… one can only hope.
    Certainly some have been delighted to seek flight or comfort in the anonymity of the mask and as a double-edged sword, some choosing expression whether physical or verbal, that they might otherwise not engage in were they instantly recognisable while others have embraced the opportunity to voice their opinions knowing perhaps their voices might carry more weight than usual…!?
    We have certainly all witnessed unusual reactions, opinions, logic or otherwise during the unfolding of this global pandemic and surely we pray that a positive outcome of this worldwide phenomenon would be deeper appreciation of the inner realities, emotions, fears and perceptions of others… choosing dialogue and understanding not aggression.
    There are always positives that can be drawn from unusual circumstances, and in part for a prolonged period we have had an opportunity to take others at much more than face value…. we can only pray it leads to more understanding, who knows? But we remain hopeful, we know we serve the God of the Impossible.

    1. Thanks, Natasha for this insightful response. Yes, “there are always positives that can be drawn from unusual circumstances” – this time, COVID and Mask wearing! We pray for the emergence of a new, collective, positive consciousness.

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