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A nasty contagion has been loose in the United States in the last few months.

And it’s not COVID-19 we’re pondering, though this pestilence is a particularly aggressive byproduct of that virus.

No, what we’re talking about is the outbreak of childishness, pettiness and belligerence among Americans who have stomped their feet and said, no, they will not wear a mask when they are out in public.

Explore social media or read news reports and you’ll find instances of folks throwing fits because they’ve been asked to wear a mask inside a business or in some other situation. Some say it’s a matter of individual rights and they don’t want some politician (in this state, Gov. Tom Wolf) telling them what to do. Or they believe the coronavirus is a cooked-up conspiracy, that wearing a mask is a show of weakness, a symbol of goody-two-shoes political correctness, or that masks simply don’t flatter them.

Who would have imagined just a few months ago that a piece of cloth with elastic ear loops would become such a cultural flashpoint?

The reality, though, is that if many more of us would wear face masks when we are out and about, the rates of coronavirus transmission and infection would drop, and we would all get a little bit closer to the lives we enjoyed before COVID-19.

Consider that, even adjusting for its population, Japan has had only 2% of the coronavirus deaths that America has had. Most researchers believe it’s because the lion’s share of the 126 million people who live in Japan have been wearing masks as they go about their business. Granted, the use of face masks is much more common in Japan and other Asian countries because of the pollution that hangs over places like Tokyo or Guangzhou, China, but they have proven to be particularly beneficial at this moment.

Wearing a mask “reduces the amount of virus you might spread into the air and onto surfaces if you happen to be sick,” said Dr. Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. “This would help slow transmission. A second benefit is that a mask, depending on the type of fabric, how tightly it fits, and how diligently you wear it, can help reduce your exposure to virus that might be present in the air, reducing your chances of catching the disease.”

Last week, Canonsburg Mayor David Rhome told us that he wants his family to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines for the foreseeable future.

“It’s a pretty simple thing,” Rhome said. “Follow the guidelines, and I think we can keep the curve down.”

And the curve needs to stay down if we want to nudge the economy back to life and stay healthy at the same time.

At its best, the United States is dynamic and energetic, and certainly some of that can be credited to a certain sense of rugged American individualism. But there are times when communal action is necessary. This is one of them. Help protect your friends, neighbors and loved ones by wearing a mask.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!

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