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Editorial: Do your part, wear a mask

Wear a mask in public and do your part to limit the spread of COVID-19. It’s as simple as that.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday announced the state would extend existing restrictions and implement a mask-wearing requirement in public places. His executive order says the mask requirements start Friday, and businesses could face penalties if employees or customers do now follow the requirements. Customers could be charged with trespassing.

North Carolina, Cooper said, is relying on data and science, he said, and “right now our increasing numbers show we need to hit the pause button while we work to stabilize our trends.” And his worry is not overhyped. The state saw its second-highest one-day jump in virus cases on Wednesday, and the second-most people were hospitalized Wednesday, too, 900.

Said another way, Cooper is trying to do the right thing for North Carolina — keeping citizens healthy while not returning to more stringent executive orders — as a virus continues to spread with a vaccine yet-to-be developed.

But Cooper’s actions have attracted opposition since the early days of closure. And that opposition has grown somewhat larger as businesses like gyms have not been allowed to open to the general public and as bars remain shuttered, too.

Some gym owners, including The Forum in Salisbury, have reopened under the exception for people who need to exercise “as prescribed or directed by a medical professional.” Bar owners across the state may contend they, too, can open safely with more thorough cleaning requirements. Perhaps they can.

Daily life, though, is made safer if everyone wears masks or cloth face coverings on a regular basis — in grocery stores, when interacting with strangers and, among other places, when patronizing local businesses. The backlash to mask requirements are largely led by people who say things like the government can’t force people to wear one and that protesters have gathered by the hundreds and thousands without them.

Sure, you won’t find a sheriff’s deputy or police officer forcibly putting a mask on someone in a grocery store, but Cooper’s order allows for penalties. It seems much easier to wear a piece of cloth that can be as simple as a modified T-shirt than to rack up fines or be asked to leave a business. Those without a mask now can find them easily at stores or online for a couple dollars each. They are easily made at home with old piece of clothes via guides available on the Centers for Disease Control’s website at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html. Make sure to wash your mask regularly and take it off when at home.

People concerned about their own personal vanity should purchase or make cloth face coverings with colors, patterns or designs on them that express their personality. Those prioritizing their own pride and choosing not to wear one are endangering others and themselves. A nursing home outbreak, which have proven to be the source of the most serious cases, can start with one worker infected by someone who chooses not to wear a mask.

Masks and cloth face coverings are not foolproof, but they are thought to reduce the chance of transmission when widely worn. If there’s even a chance that transmission is reduced, why not do it?

People are right to point out that protesters should wear masks en masse. The good news is that protests in Salisbury have involved large swaths or even a majority of participants wearing masks, but everyone who gathers in groups should do so.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said it best Wednesday when she pointed out that wearing a mask is one step that everyone can take to reduce or eliminate the spread of the virus.

“We pride ourselves on helping our neighbors. The best way we can do that now is by taking the simple action of wearing a face covering that covers your nose and mouth,” Cohen said. “If we each do our part, we can get back to the people and places we love.”

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