Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support our critical reporting on the coronavirus by purchasing a digital subscription or donating directly to the newsroom.
As more states, including Maine, are starting to require masks or other face coverings in public, prominent members of the national business community are also taking it upon themselves to enact this type of requirement voluntarily.
“Wearing a face covering isn’t about protecting yourself; it’s about protecting those around you,” said JetBlue’s president and chief operating officer Joanna Geraghty. “This is the new flying etiquette. Onboard, cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes, but this is a shared space where we have to be considerate of others.”
For the time being, wearing masks or other face coverings should be the new etiquette, not just on airplanes or in grocery stores, but in businesses and public places generally where groups of people congregate or are potentially in close contact.
The guidance on face coverings has shifted since the start of this pandemic. At first, public health officials were saying that healthy people didn’t need to cover their faces in public, and that medical masks, which were in short supply, should be saved for health care professionals ( surgical masks and N95 respirators should still be saved for front line workers). But the overall guidance on face coverings changed once studies began to show the extent that the virus can be spread asymptomatically.
A cloth face mask isn’t armor, but it can help prevent you from spreading the coronavirus to other people if you have it and are asymptomatic. This can also help in the effort to move toward a safe reopening of businesses and public spaces.
Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order on Wednesday to extend and amend Maine’s stay at home order through May 31, while also moving to gradually reopen the Maine economy, beginning with lifting some restrictions on Friday. As part of that order, the state is now requiring that, starting May 1, people wear cloth face coverings in public places where “physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” such as grocery and retail stores, pharmacies and health care facilities, take-out lines, busy parking lots and outdoor spaces, and public transportation.
As the state officials and public health experts around the country have stressed repeatedly, wearing face coverings are not a replacement for other important measures to help prevent the spread of the virus. Yes, you should wear some sort of face covering — a cloth mask, a bandana, even a hand towel or a t-shirt. The U.S. Surgeon General has demonstrated how to make your own. Many Maine manufacturers are making face masks if you want and are able to buy them. But you also should continue to wash your hands, try to maintain six feet of distance from others, disinfect regularly touched surfaces, and avoid touching your face, among other steps.
The more people can wear masks in public right now, the better. It’s part of the existing tool box we have as a society and as individuals to help slow the spread of the virus. We do, however, have some concern that requiring masks here in Maine might further what seems to be an emerging cultural and political battle nationwide. We hope people won’t decide not to wear face masks simply because the governor is telling them to.
We look at it this way: anyone wearing a face covering in public is actively participating in the effort to open more businesses sooner. And they are making the public a little safer for everyone else. We all should want to be part of that effort, no matter what mandates we face.
Everyone should do their best to wear a mask in public places where they are in close proximity to other people — not necessarily because the Trump administration recommends it or the Mills administration will now be requiring it — but because it’s the smart and considerate thing to do.
Watch: What is an N95 face mask?