As a downward trend in new coronavirus cases continues, Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement that Virginia will enter into a Phase 3 re-opening this week brought sighs of relief from some, and cries of concern from others. Increased traffic seems to indicate that residents are anxious to get back to regular routines. At the same time, more pedestrians on sidewalks, trails, and road shoulders reveals a desire still to stay close to home but get some fresh air and exercise. The Governor stressed that Phase 3 does not mark a return to business as usual, and most precautions – face masks, good hand hygiene, social distancing, staying home when sick, disinfecting often-touched surfaces – still must be observed. Must is the operative word. Not maybe, not sometimes, not once in awhile, but now, and for the not-so-foreseeable future. According to multiple Health Departments, adhering to these smart practices helped reduce the spread of coronavirus, allowing entry into Phase 3. Other states, Texas and Florida among them, relaxed requirements, re-opened too soon, and saw a spike in new cases, leading to a second shutdown in several states. Another shutdown could be devastating to Virginia’s already fragile status, and many of her residents.
A frequent call to my office is about face masks. Some callers are seeking a source for facemasks but, more frequently, the call is a complaint about people not wearing facemasks while in public. One constituent said he spent five minutes in a local drug store, where several customers were not wearing face masks. He spoke to the manager, who said he “couldn’t do anything about that.” At a grocery store, some customers and staff were wearing masks incorrectly, with their noses exposed, or simply hanging under the chin. Yes, the masks were being worn, literally, but they were not being worn effectively. On a public trail, some runners and cyclists sans masks blazed by an elderly couple taking a walk. When the couple reminded them about wearing masks, they were met with inappropriate words and gestures. Sadly, the couple has decided not to use the trails anymore. Governor Northam’s Executive Order mandated wearing face masks, but did not have an enforcement mechanism, relying on personal responsibility instead. That means each one of us.
As noted in a previous column, a good rule of thumb for wearing masks is “put on a mask when you step outside your front door.” In a multi-family building (apartments and condos), that will mean donning a mask before you step into the hallway outside your unit’s door. Wear a mask in your building’s elevator, where you collect your mail, in common areas, etc. A mask may not be required in your own yard, but outside of it, put on a mask. Carry a mask or two in your car, or your pocket, and use it! Judging by the number of abandoned masks and gloves in parking lots and along roadsides, personal protective equipment (PPE) is being worn. However, used PPE needs to be discarded properly, in the trash, not in a parking lot.
Prevent additional spread of Covid-19, and do the right thing for yourself, for your family, and for your community. Wear a mask! You could even make it a red, white, and blue one for Independence Day celebrations on Saturday!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.