Masks: Why do you wear one?

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As the scientific understanding around COVID has evolved, so have the conversations about what is safe and healthy when it comes to preventing the spread of this terrible disease. We now know so much more than we did at the start of the pandemic. As a result, many previously understood conventions about the disease have changed.

This includes mask wearing. At first, mask wearing was thought to be superfluous or only necessary for first responders and medical professionals. Now, we know that mask wearing is the single best thing all of us can do to cut down on the risk of spreading COVID to others.

There are many, many reasons why you should wear a mask. First, the science is clear: It can help cut down on the transmission of COVID. A variety of studies have made it clear that mask wearing can dramatically reduce transmission of COVID-19. One study found that, if everyone in the United States wore a mask, 33,000 lives could be saved by October. An analysis by Goldman Sacks found that mask wearing could save the United States $1 trillion – or 5% of our Gross Domestic Product. This would happen because mask wearing would slow the spread of the virus down, thus allowing lockdowns to lift sooner, consumer confidence to rise and more people to get back to work and spend money. Furthermore, mask wearing is safe: Contrary to viral memes on the internet, mask wearing does not reduce oxygen intake.

Second, emerging evidence indicates that wearing a mask is good for other people: It may also be good for you. Originally, it was believed that mask wearing was primarily for the benefit of others, not the mask-wearer. However, new research indicates that this may not be the case, as mask wearing seems to also reduce the risk of infection for people who wear masks themselves.

In many states, the law requires it. Dozens of states have now issued mandatory mask orders, requiring that their citizens wear masks in certain circumstances. Even more local governments have given the same order. As a result, wearing a mask now comes with the force of law and may be punishable by a fine.

Last, even if you live in an area where the government does not require mask wearing, many local and national businesses do require wearing a mask. These businesses deserve credit for listening to the science and protecting the safety of their customers and employees. Failure to wear a mask may result in a denial of service to you, and that is to say nothing of the newly developing social stigma that comes with failure to wear a mask in public.

Objections to mask wearing are not new: They existed during the Spanish influenza in the early 20th century as well. However, times have changed, and our understanding of science, health and safety has only improved. There is no question about it: Mask wearing can save lives – maybe even your own.

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