The bell rings and school is out. Everyone gets their hands spritzed with hand sanitizer, and then they’re gone. The once socially- distanced students begin to file out of the classrooms in herds, meeting up with their friend groups for practice. The murmurings in the hall sound excited, fearful, and muted with masks. “It’s only a matter of time before school closes,” a realist said. “Maybe someday this will all just be a distant memory,” the optimist said. The elephant in the room is addressed harshly by the pessimist. “This isn’t going away. Thousands have died.”

The group abruptly goes silent for a second, before hesitantly changing the subject with the phrase, “We have masks, so we’ll be fine,” before talking about something else crazy happening in the world. They all continue to the locker room, white halls, other classmates, and classrooms passing by. They’ve all silently agreed to move on, but in their heads, they are still wondering, all of them asking the same question: Do masks even really help?

The patter of shoes continues steadily on the tile, the flow of conversations slowly fading out as they reach the locker room doors.

I have been in a predicament such as this one, leaving me uncertain. With some people easily agreeing, to some even outright refusing to wear masks, the question “Mask on or off?” is a heavily debated topic. All we can do right now is look to the professionals. Which is precisely what I did.

With a simple google search, I had many of my own questions and doubts cleared up. After researching, I decided that wearing masks is a crucial step in stopping the spread of COVID- 19, and that they should be mandated. I believe that while it may be annoying and inconvenient, that masks are important. Here’s why.

First, before we determine if masks are effective, we have to list all the types there are, the differences they have from each other, and the pros and cons of each type. There are three main types of masks: surgical masks, N95 Respirators, and cloth masks.

Surgical masks have bending pieces in the bridge of the nose, securing the mask to the wearer. This makes the difference. According to the Mayo Clinic, surgical masks keep the user from spreading large droplets of moisture and dispersing large droplets of moisture, helping prevent the spread. While useful, they should only be used once before being disposed of. While some recommend saving them for hospital personnel, you can buy them online. The correct way of wearing them is on your nose and under your chin.

Next, N95 Respirators. These masks, as you can gather from their name, have a respirator built into the mask. They are, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a bit trickier to determine effectiveness. For example, if you have a mask with a one-way valve, you will be protected, but others around you won’t. This causes the mask to be partly ineffective. The valves must also be sterilized and you should throw them away after one use, however, the FDA said they have “... issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for the emergency use of decontamination systems for use in decontaminating certain respirators used by health care personnel when there are insufficient supplies of new respirators resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. New FDA-cleared N95 respirators or NIOSH-approved N95 respirators or other FDA authorized respirators are always the first choice before a decontaminated respirator”

They must be fairly effective. They also, unless you are a child or have facial hair, fit closely to the face, bettering protection. They fit over your nose and mouth.

Now, cloth masks. Cloth masks are very similar to surgical ones. They do not, however, have a bending piece at the nose, and are thicker material than a surgical one. Also, just like surgical ones, the right way of wearing them is on your nose and under your chin. These masks can be reused and cleaned either with regular detergent and hot water in the washing machine, or, according to the CDC, with a carefully crafted bleach solution using water and bleach safe for disinfecting for five minutes. You can find the exact steps for hand washing them on the CDC website.

While the cloth mask is majorly effective when everyone around you uses one, so are the others. The CDC recommends storing masks in a sealable bag, like a Ziploc baggie, for reuse after being cleaned. The CDC website shows helpful pictures for how to wear a mask.

Furthermore, the CDC said masks are most effective when everyone wears one. This is exactly why it is so crucial that everyone wears one around others beside the people you live with.

They help prevent those who are at high risk from catching COVID-19 from someone who unknowingly has it. If this is the case, then why weren’t masks recommended in the beginning? There is a reason for this. The CDC has said “At that time, experts didn’t know the extent to which people with COVID-19 could spread the virus before symptoms appeared. Nor was it known that some people have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms. Both groups can unknowingly spread the virus to others.”

Lastly, we have to take cons into consideration. One of the largest problems I have heard about wearing face masks is the concern of whether or not wearing one is detrimental to your health. According to Novant Health, “No, wearing a mask will not harm your health even if you are sick with a cold or allergies. If your mask gets too moist just make sure you are changing it regularly.” While the CDC said those under the age of two and those with breathing problems should not wear masks, most of the general public can safely wear them. This all leads to one logical conclusion: even if it is annoying, wearing a mask in public, if you also disinfect, social distance and wash your hands, you can help slow the spread without being a detriment to most people’s health.

In conclusion, masks, with the aid of social distancing, hand washing practices, and disinfection of areas and objects, are proven to be extremely helpful with stopping the spread of COVID-19. All of this information has led to my belief that they should be mandated. You never know who could have COVID-19, especially with the symptoms being the same for the common cold and allergies.

While some may find wearing them twenty-four-seven is unnecessary, it should be obvious that we should be wearing them around others. I believe it should be mandatory.

I ask those that claim that mandatory mask wearing is a breach of their rights to consider this question: What’s more important to you? The safety and well-being of others with little expense to yourself? Or knowingly sharing germs during a pandemic, endangering others, your family and yourself because you simply found that wearing masks was annoying? Do you not think this is a selfish choice, especially with the amount of people who have died from this virus? Your surgeon wears a mask to protect you during surgery and doesn’t complain about it. Your surgeon won’t disregard a mask because he finds it annoying and violating their rights. They are required to wear masks because masks have been proven to prevent the spread of germs to patients by experts. They are worn with the safety of others in mind. Why can’t you find the same courtesy, especially when experts who have been taught and trained for years in their field are recommending you wear them?

At this point it shouldn’t be about rights, it’s about possibly saving people’s lives. Once again, with little expense to you. It’s not just about you anymore, it is about the country and the health of its people. We all have to do our part in this pandemic. I even find masks annoying, but it, along with hand washing, disinfection, and social distancing are helping slow the spread, saving lives. Have some human decency, please I beg you, and wear a mask. If not for yourself, then for your family and the people around you. How would you feel if you were high risk for COVID-19, and found out after the near-death experience you caught it because someone was selfish enough to forgo the recommended health protocols? Would you feel terrified for yourself and others? Would you ever forgive them, or would you be too angry and disgusted with them? That is, if you survived.

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