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Face masks really do matter with spread of COVID-19

Face masks are emerging as one of the most powerful weapons to fight coronavirus, with growing evidence that facial coverings help prevent transmission — even if an infected wearer is in close contact with others.
Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggested in a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that face masks are “more guaranteed” to protect against the coronavirus than a vaccine, citing the potential for some people to not become immune to the virus after receiving the shot.
What he’s saying: “These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I’ve said if we did it for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control,” he said.
His comments are the clearest message yet from the CDC, amid fierce debate over facial coverings, fueled initially by shifting messages from federal officials about their necessity and then by those espousing individual liberties.
Of the available anti-infection steps, face masks are the most effective and important. “My mask protects you; your mask protects me,” has become the mantra among public health officials. Yet, sadly, masks have become yet another controversial cultural schism in a divided nation. Face masks are really about public health, and it shouldn’t matter exactly what your politics are.
Although Tennessee does not have a face mask mandate, several Northeast Tennessee counties, including Carter County, have made the coverings a requirement for most people in wide-ranging public situations. Those mandates are set to expire at the end of September. However, we are hopeful that the mandate will be extended through the fall and winter months.
It is more important now than ever that the face mask mandate be continued. Why? Because school children and educators must wear the masks to protect themselves and others against the virus. Health professionals must wear them. Restaurant workers must wear them, as do grocery store employees.
However, some people flout the rules. They simply do not wear them at community gatherings and oftentimes when they get inside the grocery store or Wal-Mart, they simply take them off.
Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee announced the loosening of restrictions on nursing home visitation, which in two weeks will allow nursing home residents to have a limited amount of visitors, to have outdoor visits, and for a beautician or barber to come in and give haircuts. They also will once again be allowed to engage in small group activities and eat together again.
This is great news for nursing home residents, who have been locked down since early March. They have not been able to have family and friends to visit. They have not been able to leave the nursing home or go outside, and they have not had a haircut in seven months — both men and women. Most of us cannot imagine their loneliness, their isolation. They have committed no crimes, they simply have been blessed with a long life. They are the jewels of our community.
They have been exemplary citizens through the lockdown. You haven’t seen them out in the street protesting, even though their rights were taken, nor have you seen anyone standing up publicly in their behalf.
Mind you, these nursing home residents are not the ones spreading the virus. It is the community residents, who are free to go and come as they please, and who live without any limitations on their lifestyles.
Nursing home residents — and there are six nursing homes in Carter County, including an assisted-living facility — have not only been deprived of their freedom, but their joy just so the rest of the community can go, do, and have all the fun they wish.
Everyone must take some responsibility, not just our nursing home residents.
It’s such a little thing to ask everyone when they go out to wear a mask. You are not only protecting yourself, but you are protecting our most vulnerable citizens and the people who care for them. To not wear a mask is being selfish.
We must fight this virus together, and wearing a mask is one way to do it.
Experts also caution that widespread masking doesn’t eliminate the need to follow other recommendations, like frequent hand washing and social distancing.