Practice social distancing, health leaders here and in Washington tell us. Keep 6 feet apart. Wash hands frequently. Wear a mask in public.
With North Carolina moving into the second stage of reopening, those warnings are even more important. Public health experts and scientists caution that a new wave of COVID-19 infection could be coming. We should be mindful of the danger.
But other state leaders — namely, many of the lawmakers at work in the General Assembly in Raleigh — are noticeably not following at least two of those three bits of advice. Only they know how careful they are about hand washing, but it’s easy to see that lawmakers are jammed together, and many are not wearing masks.
At least leaders in the state House have been holding some committee meetings by videoconference and voting by proxy. As businesses and agencies across the country have learned, there are ways to hold meetings and get things done without being face to face.
To be fair, the Legislative Building does make social distancing tough. People crowd into hallways, stairwells and committee rooms. In the House and Senate chambers, seats are about half the recommended distance apart.
And, yes, anyone entering the building must have a temperature check, but one of the dangerous things about COVID-19 is that people can spread it before they have symptoms.
At the very least, lawmakers, staffers and everyone who works in the building should wear a mask.
It’s true that the cloth masks most of us can get our hands on are not as effective as medical-grade masks in protecting the wearer from infection. But wearing them makes it less likely that people will spread the virus to those around them.
In other words, people should wear masks out of concern for others.
The coronavirus spreads mainly through droplets in the air when someone coughs or sneezes or talks or sings. If you’re wearing a mask, many droplets collect on the inside instead of spreading.
When people are indoors in close quarters — for example, the Legislative Building — wearing a mask becomes even more important.
It shouldn’t be a question of individual choice, because those who don’t wear masks aren’t choosing not to protect themselves. They are choosing not to protect others.
Another reason lawmakers should wear masks is that they are leaders. They should set a good example. Americans were grossly unprepared for the pandemic. When it started spreading noticeably in March, mixed messages and confusion spread with it. We were told not to wear masks before we were told to wear them. We were told this virus was not as bad as the flu before we were told it was worse.
And everything becomes political. Some people think they are standing up for their rights by not wearing a mask or keeping their distance.
There’s plenty of room to disagree about how to deal with the pandemic, how to balance public safety with the need to get on with our lives. But we all ought to agree that COVID-19 is real and there are reasonable things we can do to combat it.
By wearing masks as they go about their work, our state’s leaders can make that point.