Everyone wants to help out the small businesses in Maine that are hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting loss of activity. Some wanted to help so badly that they were fighting to open stores, bars and restaurants while the virus was hitting its peak just to the south of us, among people who frequently visit our state.

But too many of the same people who demanded an early reopening won’t do the one thing that can help businesses open and serve customers safely: Wear a mask.

Now, those small businesses are asking nicely.

Three large retail groups, representing thousands of Maine businesses across the state, have unveiled the “Let’s Be Kind” initiative, with the tag line,”Doing Business Differently Helps Keep Maine Safe.”

There will be posters, a social media campaign and television ads asking customers to be kind and patient with one another as we all adjust to the precautions made necessary by COVID-19.

They’re doing it because their members have been forced to deal with customers who don’t want to wear a mask or stay 6 feet from other shoppers, many who are upset at even the suggestion that they should.

Reporters from the Portland Press Herald have noticed the same, having twice conducted unscientific surveys of grocery, pharmacy and big-box stores and found limited compliance. They also encountered people hostile to the very idea of face coverings – similar to encounters reported around the country, one man spit at a reporter when she asked why he wasn’t wearing a mask.

If you’re among the crowd flouting these common-sense regulations, you should take a good, long look at yourself, and consider the full consequences of your actions.

State guidelines now generally require people to wear masks and practice physical distancing in public. But there is little official enforcement.

Instead, it’s left to businesses themselves. When they ask customers to wear a mask, they are not making a political statement. They are simply following the rules – they wouldn’t let you walk around barefoot, either.

However you feel about COVID-19 and the subsequent reaction, you should respect that.

If you can’t, stay home. Don’t take it out on the small-business owners who are trying to make ends meet in a tough time. Don’t take it out on the low-wage workers who are trying to make it through the day in what has become a more difficult job, whether it’s because of exposure to the virus or because of some jerk who won’t do the minimum required to keep others safe.

That’s what masks do. Used widely, they can limit the spread of COVID-19 by up to 85 percent – far better than any tool we have besides an economy-killing lockdown.

All it takes is to put a piece of cloth around your nose and mouth for a few minutes. It’s an easy way to help small-business owners and workers, who must follow the guidelines. It’s an easy way to put other shoppers at ease, so that they’ll visit your favorite spots and spend money.

And it’s an easy way to limit the size of any future outbreaks, which, if large enough, would only bring more restrictions – and more pain for Maine’s small businesses.

President Trump, whose supporters are the most resistant to masks, could turn this around with one tweet promoting their use. But nothing he’s done so far indicates that he will.

So it’s up to each person to do the right thing. The easy thing.

To help small businesses, wear a mask.


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