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