I never thought I would feel good about wearing a mask, but the COVID crisis has been full of surprises.

I don’t like the way it feels on my face, but I like what it says.

My mask protects you. Your mask protects me.

When you see me wearing one, you can know that I take your safety seriously.

When I see you wearing one, I know we both are willing to make the sacrifices that are stopping the spread of the virus.

I can’t always tell who’s washing their hands frequently. I can’t always see who respects a 6-foot zone when they approach others.

But I can see who is wearing a mask, and when I see them, I have more confidence that the people around me are not taking unnecessary risks.

Covering your face in a pandemic is an expression of civic responsibility. It shows the willingness to sacrifice your comfort for the well being of others.

But such admirable intentions become sinister when filtered through the political funhouse mirror.

Mask wearing has become another flash point in a pandemic that is becoming increasingly politicized. Refusing to wear one has become a sign that you don’t believe the hype about a highly infectious virus, or at least you believe that the public health cure has been much worse for the economy than the disease it’s supposed to prevent.

There were few masks on hand and no social distancing when protesters crammed together on Capitol Street in Augusta last weekend to demand that Gov. Mills reopen the economy – or at least reopen it faster than she has proposed

Some people can’t cover their faces because they have breathing problems. But some take pride in going maskless in public because it shows that they won’t be pushed around. It’s a sign that they reject Gov. Mills’ stay-at-home order, not just the part that makes face masks mandatory in some circumstances, but the whole thing.

Fortunately, those protesters represent a fringe element that is getting more than its share of publicity.

But I see plenty of signs that a growing number of people are getting tired of life under the coronavirus rules, and are starting to rebel in their own way.

Location data collected by cellphone companies say more of us are on the move than there were a few weeks back, indicating that people are taking a broader view of the meaning of the words “stay at home.”

The streets of Portland are still unusually quiet. It’s strange to walk by closed shops that still have their Valentine’s Day displays in the window, but there are definitely more people walking around.

You really see it in the most popular parks trails around the city, which are packed with walkers, joggers and cyclists, few of whom are wearing masks.

The weather is getting better, but there is no clinical reason to believe that it’s safer to gather outside now than there was a month ago. The virus is out there, there is no vaccine and there is no reliable treatment.

People can contract it and spread it without showing any symptoms. Even as businesses open their doors, it makes sense for all of us to do what we can to slow its spread – avoid close contact with others, and when we can’t do that, wear a mask.

It’s strange that refusing to wear a mask has become associated with reopening the economy. To me, it’s just the opposite.

Even the most cautious parts of the economic reopening plan won’t go forward if there is a spike in COVID cases. And even if businesses are allowed to reopen, it won’t help them if their customers don’t feel safe.

The way I’m voting for an economic rebound is by doing everything I can to keep the virus from spreading.

I’m working from home, I’ve canceled trips to see my kids, I’m not hanging out with my friends.

And I’m wearing a mask.


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