Face masks and shields are not a panacea to the coronavirus pandemic.

But they can reduce the risk of people spreading the virus in crowded indoor spaces where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing.

How much that risk is reduced depends on too many factors for a definitive answer to be possible.

But any reduction is better than none.

That’s sufficient reason for wearing a mask in those circumstances where, since Wednesday, face coverings have been mandated statewide by an order that Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday.

Donning a mask inside public buildings is a matter of respect for others — no different from stepping off a sidewalk to let others pass while taking a stroll, or complying with the one-way aisle arrows at the grocery store.

Many of us instinctively resist conformity. It is in many cases an admirable trait, one entirely in keeping with the American ideals of individualism and freedom.

But taking a simple action to help slow the spread of a disease that is especially dangerous to older people who already have health problems does not constitute capitulation to government overlords.

It’s just a way to show that you care about your fellow humans and want to take steps to protect the most vulnerable among us.

Wearing a mask can also help local businesses that have struggled mightily over the past 4 months. If Oregon doesn’t reverse the recent trend of increasing rates of infections, then it’s possible that more strict regulation of businesses could return. Local business owners don’t deserve that. Some might not be able to survive a return to lockdown.

We’ll all be grateful when masks are again confined to health care workers and Halloween. And by strapping on a square of fabric when it’s called for, we should be able to hasten that.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor

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