Credit: George Danby

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With executive order 49 FY 19/20, An Order to Stay Safer at Home, Gov. Janet Mills followed the advice of medical experts requiring the use of face coverings by Mainers when in public places in order to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the illness COVID-19. As a medical expert who helped determine policies around the safety of patients and staff for one of Maine’s health systems, I know this was not done lightly. We have seen the reasons for not wearing face coverings. Here are the reasons we must.

This virus does not discriminate when it comes to who it infects. During the early days of this pandemic, we informed the public that the majority of individuals who contracted COVID-19 would have mild symptoms and recover on their own. That remains true but has led people to believe that they should not worry about who gets the disease.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

We know now that this disease infects the young and old, the healthy and not so healthy, and that no one group of individuals is immune from the wrath this virus imposes. We all need to take proper precautions to protect ourselves and those around us.

We must continue to practice social distancing and remain six feet apart from others. COVID-19 is spread in the droplets that come from our nose and mouth when we cough, sneeze, yell, or sing. Wearing face coverings over our nose and mouth block those droplets. This adds to protection afforded by social distancing.

So why should you wear a face covering in public, if not for yourself? If you care for someone who is over the age of 60 or who has heart problems or diabetes or cancer or any other health concern, wear a face covering. We know this population is at highest risk for complications from this disease and have the highest rates of death if they contract it.

If you care about a child, any child, wear a face covering. While children tend to have less severe symptoms, some develop a life-threatening condition that can appear as their skin burning off or cause damage to their heart.

If you care for someone who is expecting a baby, wear a face covering. Women who are infected can quickly become severely ill after delivering a baby and need to separate from that baby, when they need them the most.

If you care about a health care worker or want them on the job should you need them, wear a face covering. Health care workers already put their health at risk caring for people known to be infected with COVID-19. Please don’t put them at risk from people who are supporting these patients.

Similarly, if you feel police lives matter, wear a face mask. We need them to keep us safe from threats other than the coronavirus.

If you support the military, wear a mask. The young airman needs to buy groceries for her family even while she prepares to defend our liberty and freedom.

If you are a small-business owner or rely on them for income, food, parcels or anything else, wear a face covering. We need to protect our customers, clients, diners, patrons and guests. An outbreak traced to a small business and posted on social media will result in closure of that business either by a government health agency or public boycott.

If you want to attend concerts, family reunions or get back to a sense of normal, wear a face covering. Until there is a significant decrease in the daily number of new cases, we risk delaying further reopening of our economy. Social distancing and face coverings directly affect that number.

In short, if you support life — in any form — protect yourself and others. Wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and wear a face covering when in public. All of us will be grateful for your actions.

James W. Jarvis is the director of clinical education at Eastern Maine Medical Center and senior physician executive and system incident commander at Northern Light Health.