One of the most important things we have learned during the coronavirus outbreak is the importance of social solidarity.

We need each other’s support to get through this. Choices made by individuals – like staying home or avoiding unnecessary interactions – can have a big impact on how many other people will get sick and die. The latest guidance from public health officials should become part of everyone’s routine as long as the virus is spreading: If you go out, cover your face.

This advice was slow to emerge from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It may have been that there was a concern that the shortage of N95 respirators – masks for medical personnel – would spark panic buying and hoarding, making a bad situation worse.

But the latest guidance does not call for everyone to wear surgical gear when they leave the house. It simply says to cover your mouth and nose with cloth, and the CDC website has a number of suggestions for making your own mask, including several that don’t require any sewing.

These homemade masks won’t provide the wearer absolute protection from being infected, but they are still valuable. Wearing one protects you from inadvertently touching your face, which is one of the ways the virus makes its way into a person’s respiratory system. And if you are one of the people who have already been infected, a mask would make you less likely to spread the virus to others.

Some people with the virus never feel any symptoms but can still spread it. Others are contagious for a period of time before they come down with symptoms. A common habit of covering our faces when we go out would reduce the opportunity to infect others, just like hand-washing and keeping a 6-foot social distancing zone.

Another important benefit is that wearing a face covering is an outward sign of social solidarity. A homemade mask shows others that you care about their health and safety, and that you are taking this pandemic seriously. It shows that you are willing to do what it takes to slow the spread of this infection for everyone’s benefit. 

We all need each other’s support in this crisis. Small things can make a big difference.

 

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