The governor’s mandate for Alabamians to don masks in public spaces in order to rein in community spread of COVID-19 was the right call to make. For students and teachers to get back in the classrooms, for workers to get back to work, for us to get back to some sense of normal, we’ve got to stop the spread of this virus.

That means social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing work spaces and classrooms and wearing masks - and wearing them the right way.

The science on the masks is clear; numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of cloth coverings in reducing the spread of the virus. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation studied the mask studies from around the world and reanalyzed the data used in then, and concluded that if 95% of the population wore cloth masks, transmission of the disease would be reduced by at least 30%. The infected group then spreads it to 30% fewer people and so on, and so on, reducing the number of people infected each time. Eventually, you go from hundreds infected to handfuls of infection.

We’ve seen evidence of that here in Alabama. Montgomery instituted a mask order and saw the case rate cut in half in one month.

Masks help filter out respiratory droplets that carry the virus, but only if they’re worn correctly. We’ve all seen it: masks worn under chins, not covering the nose or just dangling from an ear strap. If the wearer is some distance from other people, these variations aren’t an issue. However, when in group settings, they do little to protect other people in the group.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has started an information campaign to show people the right way to wear a mask. It may sound silly, but then think of all the people you’ve seen who apparently haven’t figured out how to wear a belt, if their sagging pants are anything to go by.

Masks aren’t a magic wand; we still have to exercise common sense when it comes to gatherings and washing hands. But they are one tool in our tool box that will help get us back to our everyday activities.

Cullman Regional has noted that the spread of the virus is coming from the community; it is not tied to one specific location. As a community, we all need to do our part to stop it.

Everyone wants children to be able to go back to school safely at the start of the school year. The schools are putting plans in place in an effort to make that happen. But as University of Alabama System Chancellor Fess St. John noted in his comments to President Trump recently, keeping schools open “is going to be the hardest part.”

It is not the sole responsibility of the administrators, the teachers, school staff and parents to make that happen. We all have a responsibility as members of this community to create a safe environment outside the schools.

Medical experts have provided us with the game plan for doing this. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick. When you are in a public space, particularly an indoor space where you can’t social distance, wear a mask and pull it up over your nose and mouth.

If for no other reason, do it for the kids.

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