Masks are not a partisan issue. They are a public health issue. #AmericaMaskUp

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The second surge of COVID-19 that was predicted after individuals across the country celebrated the Memorial Day holiday seems to have begun. Cases in Arizona have nearly doubled since the holiday weekend as hospitals in the state are reaching capacity. Oregon and Utah have paused reopening in the midst of spikes in numbers of cases and North Carolina is considering the need for a second shut down. And while the United States now has over 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus since the start of this pandemic, the president declared victory over the pandemic last month, and his mockery of wearing a mask has led to division in this country, that is observed even within his own party.

The president assumed a reporter on the White House Lawn was wearing a mask to be “politically correct” and went so far as to mock former Vice President Biden for wearing a mask on his visit to honor fallen soldiers. Two weeks after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of wearing a mask and emphasized its importance in controlling this pandemic, a factory in Maine had to discard all swabs produced on the day the president visited and refused to wear a mask during his tour. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the nation, it is essential to remember that masks are not a partisan issue, they are a public health one. COVID-19 does not distinguish between political parties and leaders from both sides of the aisle have pleaded with their communities to wear a  mask when leaving home to control the spread of this dangerous virus.

Most Americans are united in wanting to reopen and get back to a new normal, with varying levels of quarantine fatigue impacting individuals across the nation. The economy is declining, the mental health of our nation is suffering, and everyone is looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. However, despite the fact individuals on both sides of the aisle support masks, the concept of universal masking has become incredibly divisive, and the fact that wearing a mask is critical in order to safely reopen and remain open has been lost in the discussion.

It is important to remember that the reopening of businesses does not imply that the virus is contained, nor does it mean that the risk of being infected has lessened.  In fact, as businesses reopen, the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 has increased.  As states reopen, our nation is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases that are not explained by better testing capabilities.

Spreading the virus does not require one to cough or sneeze, but simply speaking has been shown to potentially transmit infected droplets. Some may never show any symptoms and still infect others by speaking loudly in a public space without a mask on. For this reason, the CDC recommends anyone over the age of two wear a mask whenever in public. Dr. Fauci, the nation’s guiding scientific voice on COVID-19, urged all Americans to use universal masking to prevent the spread of the virus and protect others. This is especially true in public areas where it can be challenging to maintain a distance of six feet from others. As the weather improves, keeping the length of a high school locker or two shopping carts between yourself and others on the sidewalk can be difficult as more people venture out of their homes.

The New England Journal of Medicine notes that wearing a mask can decrease the amount of viral droplets released into the air. In other words, wearing a mask prevents you from infecting others, and other people wearing a mask prevents them from infecting you. Countries that implemented universal masking have already seen decreases in viral transmission. A recent study out of Cambridge and Greenwich University reports the use of universal masking can prevent future surges of the virus.  Thus, it is important that all Americans mask up prior to stepping out of the house to control the spread of this virus. Wearing a mask must not only become the hottest must-have accessory of the moment, but it also must become the norm.

To be sure, wearing a mask can be an inconvenience, and as the weather gets warmer it can be uncomfortable. Certain masks are not as breathable, and universal masking has not been a part of the culture of this country. But it is important to remember that wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing will not only save lives, but can also prevent the collapse of our healthcare system and bring us all a step closer to reopening schools, places of worship, and other workplaces that we so desperately crave. Everyone must do their part so that we do not backslide into a second surge requiring more shelter-in-place orders to be implemented across the country.

It is time to put our political and ideological differences aside and recognize that our true enemy is COVID-19. Wearing a mask and social distancing works to control the spread of this virus that does not discriminate based on political party, religious affiliation, or personal beliefs. Make a mask for yourself or others, wear a mask, and thank others who are wearing them – they are protecting you. It’s time to show the world what it means to be the United States, not the divided states, and unite against this common enemy. America, mask up.

Vineet Arora, Shikha Jain, Laura Zimmermann, Ali Khan, Amisha Wallia, and Eve Bloomgarden are physicians and represent the Illinois Medical Professionals Action Collaborative Team.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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