In case you’re keeping score, it’s been more than two months since Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, the Virginia Department of Health has reported that more than 40,000 Virginians have contracted the disease, and there have been nearly 1,300 deaths.
Northam, on May 15, allowed restaurants and nonessential businesses in most parts of Virginia to reopen as long as they could adhere to strict guidelines outlined in the governor’s Phase 1 plan. However, just two weeks into this first phase, Northam issued an executive order that requires everyone age 10 and older wear a face covering while inside public buildings effective today. Previously, wearing a face mask was only a recommendation.
“I am taking this step because science increasingly shows us the virus spreads less easily if everyone is wearing face coverings,” he said during his regularly scheduled press briefing on Tuesday.
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After Northam issued the order, supporters and opponents alike posted to the governor’s Facebook page.
“Choosing to not wear a mask=choosing to drive drunk,” one person wrote in support of the order.
Another person, who opposed to order, wrote, “Requiring face masks 3 months into the Pandemic is like requiring condoms at the baby shower.”
It’s not known why Northam decided now, two weeks into Phase 1, to require face coverings or how the order will be enforced. The order is meant not to restrict personal freedoms, but to protect our own health and others around us.
Certainly there was a public outcry when Virginia joined 24 other states and the District of Columbia in March 1987 requiring drivers and front seat passengers to wear seat belts. There was also opposition when smoking was banned in bars and restaurants in Virginia in 2009.
But the bottom line is these rules can save lives, and it’s possible that wearing masks can, too.
Let’s face it, though. Masks are hot, inconvenient and downright weird looking. Our culture and way of life is not built around wearing a mask. We’re afraid we’re going to get strange looks from others.
As many of us were holed up at home with nowhere to go during the governor’s stay-at-home order, it didn’t make sense to need to wear a mask then. Now, however, as we prepare to enter Phase 2 of our state reopening, more people are venturing into public places. Some who might be carrying the virus may not be experiencing any symptoms and could unknowingly pass it to others. We need additional protection, thus the mask directive.
Here’s something else to consider: For those with underlying health issues or compromised immune systems, a layer of fabric might be all that’s keeping them from getting this disease. What if that person was your sister, your mother, your grandchild or your husband? Would you then consider wearing one?
On May 24, The New York Times published the names of 1,000 people who have died from the coronavirus on its front page. That number represents roughly 1% of the nearly 100,000 people reported to have died from the disease.
If wearing a mask can help slow the spread of COVID-19, wouldn’t you want to do your part?