In the last month, I've left our home in my car exactly once, to go to the drive-thru window of our local pharmacy for a necessary prescription.
On the way, I had to wait behind a city bus as it dropped off passengers at a shopping center. One person after another, many of them young adults, disembarked and immediately held their phones to their ears or in other ways touched their faces. It's such a habit, but it's a dangerous one right now. None of them was wearing gloves or face masks, and all of them likely touched commonly used spaces on the bus that had been previously touched by other people.
In this time of a pandemic, this is risky behavior.
Let's pause for this reminder: We have never had more power to save lives. You, me and most every other adult living in America can act in ways right now that could prevent another person from being infected with the coronavirus. Unless you save lives for a living, you've never been mightier. Any other time, who could blame superhero you for wanting your own cape and tights? Nobody, I say.
Unfortunately, we are in this time, when the coronavirus is highly contagious. That's why, if we're not essential workers during this pandemic, we're supposed to stay home. On those rare occasions when some of us have to go out in public, we are supposed to stand at least six feet apart from one another. In line at the drugstore. Shopping at the grocery. Even walking through the neighborhood. Everywhere.
As I keep reminding my college students during our online video sessions, this is not our forevermore. I readily admit I am repeating this for myself as much as for them. One of the hardest parts of this self-quarantine is developing the discipline not to imagine even a week ahead, let alone months, but living in the moment is no frolic, either. Too often, the present moment bears no resemblance to life as it used to be.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all of us wear some sort of face mask when we are out in public. Not surgical or N-95 masks, which are in such great need for our medical providers, but masks that we can make ourselves from two layers of tightly woven cotton fabric, such as quilters cloth or bedsheets with a high thread count.
For those who sew, you can kind find patterns on Google. For those who don't sew, you can also find patterns on Google. The CDC also has patterns on its website. The key is to make sure it fits well over your nose and mouth, but not so thick that you're breathing from the sides.
If you were looking for an at-home project to help others, this would be a great place to start. There are plenty of people who feel helpless when it comes to crafts. Your homemade masks would be such a neighborly thing to do.
Here's why face masks matter. The CDC says that up to a quarter of people may have COVID-19, and we'll never know it because they have no symptoms. But they are contagious.
Bonnie Berkowitz and Aaron Steckelberg lay out the other reasons face masks matter in a piece for The Washington Post that is concise but packed with vital information. From their story:
"The coronavirus is extremely tiny — too tiny to be trapped by most fabrics that still allow air to flow through them. However, the virus seems to be most transmissible when it is stuck to much larger water or mucus droplets that come out of our mouths and noses when we cough, sneeze or talk, and a homemade mask can block those droplets."
Please read that aloud to anyone who claims masks aren't necessary. Shout it from six feet away, if necessary.
Increasingly, public figures and elected officials are wearing face masks in public. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden recently announced that he would. So did Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who has garnered national attention for his early and aggressive efforts to thwart the spread of the virus.
President Donald Trump is refusing to wear a face mask in public. Sure, because that's what will make him look foolish during this pandemic.
Ignore the president. Trust the medical professionals who want to save lives. Wear that face mask.
And if you think it makes you look goofy, take heart. Few people will ever know it's you.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, "The Daughters of Erietown," will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.