Editorial: To mask or not to mask, that is the question

Why, you ask, is this even a question since we already flattened the curve to prevent the new coronavirus (COVID-19) from overloading our healthcare system? We took extreme measures. The economy basically shut down.

It's been a rough few months but now those extreme measures are being eased. Our lives are becoming more normal. We're socializing again with family and friends, going out to dinner, traveling to the beach. And, yes, getting haircuts!

But with the economic reopening, COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising in Georgia prompting Gov. Brian Kemp, accompanied by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, to hopscotch around the state earlier this month promoting the "Wear A Mask" campaign. They stopped in Dalton on July 2 making their pitch from Hamilton Medical Center. So what do we now understand about how COVID-19 spreads that we weren't as sure of early on?

High risk activities -- commonly referred to as super spreader incidents-- have sickened many people. Crowded places and small spaces with poor ventilation are problems. Bars, funerals, conferences and choir practices are all proven super spreader events due to face-to-face conversations, loud talking and singing which transmit viral particles from one person to the next.

Additionally, some people are super spreaders who infect a disproportionate number of other people. Could you be a super spreader and not know it? Could you be asymptomatic and infect others? Yes and yes.

Coughing and sneezing are well understood viral transmission methods resulting in large viral particles being expelled into the air and then fairly quickly falling. It's easy to see how a mask is protective. The recent and disconcerting news concerns airborne transmission of extremely small viral particles called aerosols. Simply talking expels them; they are very light and can float around for several hours. Can they infect others? The current thinking is yes -- especially in smaller, less well ventilated spaces.

Today, many younger people are testing positive for COVID-19. They are less likely to become gravely ill and require hospitalization. Their fatality rate is lower. But so many are testing positive that transmission rates are higher and more people are requiring hospital care.

So we're returning to a new normal that places new demands on us. Our personal decisions to wear a mask and respect social distancing are part of that new normal.

Think about our community as one big company. We all "work" here and contribute to its economic health. Nobody wants our company to shut down again. That, of course, depends on "working" together. Our collective job to flatten the curve is not yet done.

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