I’m extremely pro-mask. Wearing a cloth mask over the mouth and nose – even the crude cloth masks with elastic bands around the ears – is easily one of the single most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19. I support businesses, schools, transportation services, and government buildings mandating them for customers, employees, students, and faculty. Yes, they are uncomfortable. But the discomfort is such a trivial issue compared to the effectiveness at saving lives that it should clearly be applied.
It is however very unnecessary to wear a mask outdoors when not around large groups of people such as a concert or protest. “Following the science” and using “common sense precautions” should be consistently applied. Even the use of masks by fully vaccinated people is not even necessary in most situations, although can still be a good thing to use for extra precaution because yes, some vaccinated people can still carry and transmit the virus in rare circumstances.
Taking the basic precaution of properly using masks, following physical distancing, and getting vaccines allows for all aspects of society to proceed without any restrictions or lockdowns – restaurants and bars can operate at almost full capacity; gyms and nail salons can remain open; schools can operate in-person classes with extremely little risk; and busses, Metro, and even ride-hailing services can continue to help people get around safely.
There have been some horrifying failures from government in this. All levels from federal agencies even down to Arlington County repeatedly failed to properly educate the public on the true benefits and use of masks, allowing misinformation to spread and the pandemic to be prolonged. The federal government also deliberately downplayed the importance of masks in the early months of the pandemic only to reverse their recommendations, causing further harm to scientific credibility and allowing for nefarious misinformation campaigns to gain in popularity.
There are many lessons to be learned from this pandemic and the current surge in the Delta variant, but the importance of masks should be at the top of the list.