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Wearing a mask in public helps you help your community

Wearing a mask in public helps you help your community

Apr. 29, 2020

By Mary Wade Burnside

Sure, I felt silly the first time I took a walk around my neighborhood with a mask on.


Now I’m pretty accustomed to it.

I’ve smiled at people who are walking their dogs and then I realize they probably can’t tell. I’ve wondered if I can perfect “smizing,” the modeling technique of “smiling with your eyes.”

I know I’m not the only one who worries about that. I overheard a co-worker telling someone the same thing, how she had smiled at someone before realizing her mask was hiding it.

I also know there are people who don’t wear a face covering. I see them out and I hear about it when people send in complaints and post about it on Monongalia County Health Department’s social media, including on Facebook. 

Dr. Lee B. Smith, MCHD’s executive director and county health officer, released an order on April 7 recommending that everyone don a mask or some kind of face covering when they go outside. 

And here’s the thing: If you do, it doesn’t provide as much protection for you from getting sick as it does others you encounter. Instead, it helps keep your germs from spreading to someone else. And vice versa. That’s why, when I see someone wearing a mask, I appreciate their consideration for other people.

As a meme geared toward yoga enthusiasts stated: “The mask I wear to protect you recognizes the mask you wear to protect me. Namaske.”

And just because you don’t feel sick doesn’t mean you aren’t. It is estimated that 1 in 4 people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms. Also, people can shed the virus before they begin to feel ill.

Of course, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, a shortage of medical masks made it unfeasible for the general public to wear them. Now that several groups have organized to sew face coverings during the pandemic, that’s not an excuse anymore.

West Virginia Association of Local Health Departments created a program called Masks4WV that encourages community members to pick up needle and thread on behalf of this effort. More information and instructions can be found on the health department’s COVID-19 web page. Monongalia County Health Department has a mask drop-off bin at the front entrance of our building, the one on the upper level.

Plus, United Way of Monongalia and Preston Counties has an organized mask-making effort (email servando@unitedwaympc.org to either make or get masks) and the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources also devotes a web page to this topic.

Plus, you’ve probably seen the videos of how to take an ordinary bandanna and with a few simple folds and a couple of hair ties …. Voila! You can be safe and fashionable.

Also, about the walking: We’ve heard complaints from area residents who have gone to popular strolling and hiking locations, expressing that they are upset over the crowds and lack of masks.

This is unfortunate. A complaint can be made to Monongalia County Health Department about situations like this, as well as other observations such as people gathering in groups greater than five, a lack of social distancing or certain workers not wearing a mask if they should be.

MCHD follows up on complaints. But some infringements are worse than others; and some are more enforceable too.

In the end, sometimes, if you see a situation that makes you uncomfortable, and if it’s something you can avoid, then that might be the solution. Like the frequent and thorough hand washing you should be doing, sometimes you just have to make commonsense decisions to remain safe.

It doesn’t seem fair, and it won’t always be like this. But as COVID-19 cases continue to climb in West Virginia, staying home except for essential errands and work is best.

Other than, maybe, a walk or job around the neighborhood, preferably while wearing a mask. It’s not always easy in Morgantown, a city not blessed with a surplus of sidewalks. I know my neighborhood isn’t.

Still, that’s my after-work plan. Mask and all.

Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer at Monongalia County Health Department.

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