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OPINION: I hate wearing a face mask, but here’s why I do it

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Let me be upfront. I am pro mask.

I know, I know. This is a bold statement at a time when people are taking the to-wear or not-to-wear debate to new heights and making it about rights and freedoms.

When Lambton County council decided last week not to join a growing number of municipalities and mandate non-medical masks, social media lit up with comments from relieved residents who congratulated county politicians on their common sense.

One guy called Lambton County’s decision, “A big win for liberty, big loss for cry babies.”

And there you have it. Somehow this debate about wearing a mask has become about civil liberties.

Fact is masks are uncomfortable. They’re hot. They muffle voices and make us feel self-conscious. To be effective, they require effort to put them on correctly, not to touch them, and to wash them judiciously.

All of which makes it much easier to dismiss a mask as an unproven pain that isn’t worth the trouble.

The anti-mask faction leans heavily on another fact, that early in the pandemic many respected health organizations didn’t recommend them. Even the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said masks could create a false sense of protection.

But that was then.

New studies have found non-medical face masks worn properly can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19. Health experts now strongly recommend them; including Lambton’s own medical officer of health.

When physical distancing is not possible, like on a bus or in a store, masks are effective.

And what if I told you that when others wear masks in such situations YOU are less likely to be infected?

I wear a mask because I don’t want to get COVID-19 and I don’t want to give it to someone else. I might be feeling fine but actually carrying the virus while asymptomatic.

That’s another insidious aspects of this pandemic. Studies have found as many as 40% of cases are transmitted by people not showing symptoms. If you don’t know you’re a carrier and go shopping without a mask, you risk making others sick.

The viral load peaks in the days before symptoms appear, and even speaking is enough to expel virus-carrying droplets, say experts including UC San Francisco epidemiologist George Rutherford and infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong.

I’ve generally kept a healthy outlook during this pandemic. But I get a knot in my belly when people tell me they don’t wear a mask because they don’t feel sick. Or they tell me they’re confident they’re safe because few local residents have COVID-19 right now.

Sadly, it’s far from eradicated. It could come back with a vengeance. No one knows. Without a vaccine or a cure for COVID-19, physical distancing, wearing a mask, and hand washing are the tools we have available to stop the spread.

No one wants to wear a mask, including me.

But I do it anyway.

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