Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., left, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., speak before a virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, top left, is to testify before the committee. Credit: Win McNamee | AP

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Wearing a mask in public should not be a divisive issue. Health experts, including those on the president’s coronavirus task force, recommend covering your mouth and nose to help decrease the spread of the virus. For this reason, wearing a mask is an essential part of plans to reopen businesses without worsening the spread of coronavirus.

Yet, many Americans refuse to wear masks and some are even mocking those who do.

In the absence of leadership from a president who refuses to model good behavior by wearing a mask, we suggest that everyone take a deep breath — safely away from other people — and take a rational look at the situation.

The guidance on face coverings has shifted since the start of this pandemic. At first, public health officials said 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 and other front line workers. This remains true of N95 respirators and surgical masks. But the overall guidance on face coverings changed once studies began to show the extent that the virus can be spread asymptomatically.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recommended them in public since early April. The White House’s Guidelines for Reopening America Again recommends them as well.

Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order late last month to extend and amend Maine’s stay at home order through May 31, while also moving to gradually reopen the Maine economy, beginning May 1. As part of that order, the state is now requiring that 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.

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 may not have symptoms. This can also help in the effort to move toward a safe reopening of businesses and public spaces.

Yet, wearing a face mask remains controversial, with some divisions breaking along partisan lines. This is counterproductive.

Despite recommendations from both the White House itself and the federal CDC, President Donald Trump refuses to wear a mask.

Even as he announced the new CDC guidelines about masks in early April, Trump said he would not be complying.

“I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” he said at the April 3 press briefing.

Last week, the president didn’t wear a mask while touring a factory in Arizona that makes them.

Trump has told advisers that he believes wearing one would “send the wrong message,” according to one administration and two campaign officials not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations who spoke with the Associated Press. The president said doing so would make it seem like he is preoccupied with health instead of focused on reopening the nation’s economy, the officials said.

Here’s the thing: health and the economy are intertwined. The economy won’t begin to recover until the majority of Americans believe their health is not endangered by the coronavirus. Yet, recent polls have found that Americans, and Mainers, are fearful of returning to workplaces, restaurants, stores and other places that are central to economic activity until they believe that coronavirus is less of a threat.

A mask is not a sign of submission or weakness. Wearing one sends a message that you respect others and don’t want to unknowingly make them sick. This is especially important to cashiers, store clerks, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, waiters, factory workers, hair stylists and others who come into close proximity to lots of people while doing their work.

Following public health guidelines — such as wearing a mask, remaining at least six feet away from other people, washing your hands frequently, staying home if you are sick — are necessary to reopen businesses without the spread of coronavirus getting worse.

Watch: The difference between a face mask and face covering

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