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To wear or not to wear, that is the question

Beginning July 1, Governor Andy Beshear and the state of Kentucky are allowing gatherings of fewer than 50 people. Local city and county government entities are already planning on getting caught up on public hearings they have fallen behind on during the state’s mandatory social isolation period. But one thing that we still need to be aware of and careful about is the use of cloth face masks, especially in situations where the number of people makes it difficult to maintain the recommended distance of six feet.

While some people have been balking at these recommendations, and others purposely flouting them, it’s something that we need to take seriously to keep cases of the virus from spiking, according to medical professionals. Dr. Steven Stack, during the governor’s Monday press conference, reiterated the importance of wearing these masks as local meetings and gatherings recommence.

Some folks have tried to make the wearing of face masks a political statement, but public safety doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – have a left or right-wing bias. Both our Democratic governor and Republican Senator Mitch McConnell have urged Kentuckians to wear cloth face masks, if not for their own protection then for the protection of vulnerable populations like immunocompromised individuals, children, and the elderly.

It’s true, as many critics of face masks have pointed out, that cloth masks alone aren’t as effective at filtering out the virus as N95 face masks and other high tech personal protective equipment. But what regular use of cloth masks can do is help stop the spread of virus-laden droplets of saliva while speaking. There are multiple studies and videos that show just how big an impact the masks can make. In one popular video a laser is used in a darkened room to show the spread of droplets when speaking without a mask, and the reduced spread when speaking with a mask. Another informal study showed the difference in the growth of bacteria in Petrie dishes that a nurse coughed onto with and without a mask. It should come as no surprise that while the agar in the dish that was coughed on without a mask showed a veritable menagerie of bacterial growth, the growth of the dish coughed on with a mask was remarkably sparse.

In recent days we’ve heard more and more anecdotes about people without masks harassing people who are wearing masks – and vice versa. In a climate where every action is politicized, and every choice scrutinized as fodder for the culture wars, this is no longer surprising. But it is no less disappointing for its growing ubiquity. It’s sad that the very least we can do to help keep others safe is now more about left vs right than it is about keeping our neighbors and loved ones safe. Those on the right who feel that wearing a face mask is a statement about the President need to realize that those wearing masks are doing so for your protection as much as for their own. Those on the left need to realize that while some individuals may eschew masks to make a political statement, others may forego masks because of legitimate medical issues – issues that make your use of masks and maintaining proper social distance from them even more important to their health and safety.

This is something that should not be politicized or allowed to turn into an argument between the pundits and talking heads of the 24-hour television news cycle. We urge you to respect one another. Protect one another. Wear masks if you can. Maintain a proper social distance of six feet if you cannot. And, together, we can weather this public health crisis and return to a normal way of interacting in a shorter period of time. When Democrats like Andy and Republicans like Mitch can agree on these types of actions, it means we all should take the advice to heart and listen to the better angels of our nature instead of giving in to the culture war trolls that seek to divide and conquer us.

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