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For the past half-year, the word “mask” has ignited verbal wars and physical altercations in our nation, but thankfully not much in West Virginia. While divided on many issues, Americans agree that we do not want COVID-19 to continue to control our hospitals, economy, schools, social life and more. Until the vaccine arrives, our only bulwarks against the disease are hand-washing, social distancing and masks.

We’re good with the first item, fair with the second and poor with masks. We need to take a lesson from winning sports coaches, like Marshall’s Doc Holliday. He constantly wears his mask on the field and also has done what many of the Marshall faithful thought impossible. Doc has brought us a fantastic winning football team and kept the players healthy enough to play all their games. All game cancellations have come from other teams who had contracted COVID-19.

Face masks don’t guarantee protection from COVID-19, but they improve your odds. Scientists have shown that masks, even ordinary cloth ones, can limit the spread of virus particles. If the great majority of Americans wore masks, it is likely that we could keep our schools, businesses and economy running profitably.

I visited Hong Kong in 1996 before it was under Communist China’s thumb, and again in 2017 when China was calling the shots. In both years, regardless of the governmental system, Hong Kong residents of all ages frequently wore face masks.

Visiting China in 2017, I again noticed many healthy- looking people wearing masks and had an opportunity to ask about this. The answers included that Chinese people regularly wear masks if they feel they are getting sick, are or were sick; this is considerate and helps prevent the spread of disease. Additional reasons for wearing masks included pollution, which is extensive in coal-burning regions. An added benefit is keeping your face warm in the winter.

At the end of October 2020, Hong Kong, with a population of 7.5 million, had approximately 5,314 COVID-19 cases and 105 deaths. Approximately 98% of the population wear masks, for reasons noted previously, and also because of a history of Asian pandemics.

Meanwhile, at the end of October, West Virginia with a population of approximately 1.8 million people reported 22,706 cases and 432 deaths. These figures will have increased by the time this column is published. West Virginia averaged about 500 new cases and five deaths per day recently. Most West Virginians are complying with mask mandates from stores. Schools, where masks are worn, are not considered a main source of virus transmission.

Do the math. You have a much better chance of staying healthy and keeping businesses and schools fully open in Hong Kong than West Virginia. As Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s coronavirus director, recently said, “This sounds so simple … it’s almost mind- numbing … wearing a mask and physically distancing … if everybody does it, it is equivalent to having a vaccine today.”

We’ve all got COVID-19 fatigue, but as Dr. Marsh says, and Doc Holliday does, wear a mask.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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