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Don't fear the face mask 

Walking around Abundance Co-op wearing a homemade face mask felt awkward as hell.

I had a folded-over, black bandana with paisley pattern tied tightly to my face as I hunted for legumes. A few other shoppers in the market wore face covering, too, so that provided a bit of comfort. But I still thought I looked ridiculous.

What took the edge off was the feeling that what I was doing was necessary.

Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people living in areas where coronavirus is spreading wear cloth face coverings when they’re in public, particularly in places where it’s hard to stay the suggested six feet away from others, such as grocery stores.
click to enlarge This is me, at home, trying to get used to having part of my face covered up. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • This is me, at home, trying to get used to having part of my face covered up.
On Monday, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello called on local residents to follow those guidelines while sticking firm to social distancing measures. He gave a signal boost to the CDC’s guidance, but also acknowledged that the request will make people feel uneasy.
I’ll go one step further. This will be a difficult step for many of us. Social distancing means we’re already physically separated from friends, neighbors, partners, and co-workers. Our lives have been disrupted, our stress and anxiety are high, and hugs are out of the question. Covering our faces just puts another physical barrier between us.

Still, if I have to be in a place where staying six feet apart from people feels impossible, like the grocery store, or picking up food curbside, or buying  food for my dog, I will wrap my mouth and nose in a bandana.

Do I think wearing a makeshift mask will keep me from getting ill? Not really. So why do it?

This isn’t about me (though I’m talking about myself way more than I care to). This is about the people around me. This is about my responsibility to them — a responsibility we all bear.

Putting a few layers of cotton between my face and the world could very well help limit transmission. A mask can contain the droplets that come out when I breathe, talk, or cough, blocking the vehicle that coronavirus uses to spread.

In his column on why we should wear masks, which inspired my commentary, Dave Orrick of the Twin Cities Pioneer Press noted reports that as many as a quarter of people infected with coronavirus don’t show symptoms.

As he spoke yesterday, Bello also stressed the potential for people who are infected, but don’t know it because they don’t have symptoms, to spread the virus around.

I feel fine right now, although I could be one of those asymptomatic carriers. Who knows? That’s an uncomfortable thought.

Then again, everything about COVID-19 is uncomfortable, including looking like I’m part of some raucous protest as I buy cereal and garlic.

But I’d rather be part of the solution than part of the problem. I own a half-dozen or so bandanas, and they’ll be put to good use.

Please, cover your face, too, and know that we all think we look absurd.

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