With COVID-19 Cases Rising Again, Here Are All the Reasons You Need to Wear a Mask

Masks are mandatory in Pennsylvania and strongly recommended elsewhere in our region.

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After a rise in cases of the coronavirus across the country and in our region, leaders are taking an even stronger stance on the use of masks, with multiple places now making it mandatory (though self-enforced).

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said masks are mandatory in the city. State Health Secretary Rachel Levine has made them mandatory across the state "in order to avoid the resurgence that is overwhelming the health care systems and public health systems in other states who have been less successful in reopening than the Commonwealth."

A detailed, more than 3,000-word state guide says children 2 years old and older should wear a mask. You should also wear a mask inside a public place even when you can't maintain social distancing, the guide says. See the full guide here.

In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy has warned that crowds gathered without masks could contribute to spread of the virus, and that the fight was not over. He has said the carelessness of a few can ruin things for the many.

"Most people in Philadelphia are following the recommendations about mask use," Farley said last week when announcing Philly's mandatory mask order. He said his staff surveyed multiple spots around the city last month to check on mask usage.

"Among people in SEPTA stations, 55% were wearing masks. Among people exiting retail stores, 78% were wearing masks," Farley said. "That's good, but it needs to be better. We need to have a higher percentage of people wearing masks."

Philadelphia Police will not be enforcing the order, though, Farley added.

"In the end it's up to us as Philadelphia residents to self-enforce this order. If it works we can reduce the spread of infection. If it doesn't, we'll have more cases, it's as simple as that."

How and why

Because the coronavirus can be spread through droplets - spit and air that you exhale in an invisible cloud around you - health officials want people to wear a mask.

Masks catch that air, which could be carrying the virus even if you don't have symptoms. If you're carrying the virus, you're most infectious in the days before your symptoms show and then while you're symptomatic, Farley said.

Governors have said to wear a mask in any situation where you can't keep a safe social distance of six feet or more from people who don't live with you.

Any face covering is better than nothing at catching your droplets and preventing them from spreading to another person. But make sure both your nose and mouth are covered!

"The simple reality is if you want to stay safe and keep your family safe, follow the guidelines," Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke told NBC10 recently.

But it's hot, I'm uncomfortable!

Levine's guidelines say that simple discomfort because of the heat is not reason enough to go without a mask.

Ditto for concerns about acne.

Dr. Trina Abla from Mercy Catholic Medical Center suggests wearing a lighter color mask to avoid feeling stuffy. And if you get overheated, walk to a well-ventilated cool place away from other people and take off the mask for a bit.

Up to Businesses

Businesses found not to be enforcing social distancing protocols or mask usage could face fines and penalties, incentivizing them to make sure customers do the right thing.

But across the country, videos have been posted of some maskless customers becoming irate with employees who ask them to leave. And the federal Department of Justice had to step in after several reports of a fake "face mask exempt card" that some people tried to use when entering a business.

"It's my job to be worried, but I am worried in general about reopening without people wearing masks," Farley said. "I think that there are things that we could reopen safely if we are really vigilant about mask use."

New Jersey had to push back the restart of indoor dining indefinitely after seeing large crowds gathered at outdoor bars, not wearing masks and not socially distancing.

"We will not tolerate outlier bars and restaurants – and, frankly, patrons – who think the rules don’t apply to them," Murphy said.

If you see a business not following the guidelines, Pennsylvania and New Jersey both have online forms to file a complaint. In Philly, you can call 311.

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