Our opinion: Just wear a mask

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For all the railing on social media about having to wear a face covering when entering a retail business, nearly 100 percent of shoppers in major Bennington stores were already in compliance on Wednesday — a day before the local emergency directive took effect.

The resolution requiring face coverings in stores, adopted unanimously by the Select Board, set a compliance date of Thursday morning.

The apparent early compliance was a good sign. It showed that, for all the online wailing about supposed loss of constitutional freedoms or infringements on rights, most people see the basic point of this requirement — to protect other shoppers and the people who work in the stores.

That means simply being a good citizen of Bennington and doing your part to protect other residents and visitors, and having them do the same for you. Ultimately, that kind of cooperation will allow a restart of our stalled economy much sooner than would an environment in which many are afraid to enter a business.

Since face masks have become almost a fashion statement as the coronavirus epidemic has dragged on with no early end in sight, there can be no excuse anymore for not finding one that fits and is comfortable.

This is not, by the way, a rights issue either, as governments have the authority to require such steps during a health or other emergency. That is what the Select Board did on Monday.

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Doctors say various conditions don't excuse people from wearing masks, but rather emphasize the importance of wearing one correctly. It's true that, for some, wearing a mask can be annoying and uncomfortable. But health experts say the solution isn't forgoing masks altogether, but wearing ones better suited to the individual.

In addition, most stores will probably be more than happy to accommodate people without a mask while they wait outside. Where they can also feel good about protecting their neighbors — and their relatives, many of whom might be susceptible, no matter their age, to a severe case of COVID-19.

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It also seems strange that people are still arguing on social media that the coronavirus is "not as bad as the flu" or "nothing like the Spanish flu" after World War I.

Well, the numbers don't lie: More than 100,000 have died in the U.S. because of this disease — which could be a significant undercount given the shortage of testing kits available, and which is well above the average number of deaths from the seasonal flu in recent years.

And the first deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. were in late February. We have a long way to go to make it a full year, and think of where the total might be now without the lockdowns imposed by governors in almost every state.

Think where we would be without the courageous medical personnel — and the advanced care they are throwing at this scourge, which wasn't available in 1918 — and it is not hard to imagine this is as bad at that other epidemic, which killed many millions around the world.

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Any virus that can't be controlled with a vaccine is a potential threat to almost everyone in the world, and there is no way to predict how it will affect each individual. We apparently haven't seen anything like this for a century.

Beyond the grim statistics, as Dr. Trey Dobson, chief medical officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, said in a letter to the Select Board, the medical community has learned much quickly under the pressure of this epidemic.

He said one obvious fact is that, when everyone wears a face covering when distancing is not practicable, the rate of infection transfers drops close to zero.

Conversely, when people congregate without masks, ignore social distancing and good hygiene, there are infection spikes — and more people die.

Wearing a mask inside a business establishment is a not onerous requirement to help move Vermont and its economy through a crisis.


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