'Businesses cannot fully reopen and we cannot fully enjoy life again unless this pandemic is under control.'

EDWARDSOne easy act can make a meaningful contribution to our life-or-death fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Please, wear a face mask in public.

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Oregonians valiantly came together, collectively stayed at home, and significantly slowed COVID-19. But now we're in danger of losing all the ground we gained and becoming a hotspot. More than 230 of our loved ones already have died from this terrible disease, and state experts are warning we could have as many as 7,000 new cases per day by the end of the month unless we take action now. We all need to do step up and do more.

Wearing a mask is the right thing to do. It shows we all care about one another. No one wants to become infected with COVID-19, and no one wants to cause someone else's suffering. Wearing a mask helps prevent you from infecting others.

The truth is that people can start shedding the virus two or three days before they even have symptoms, or before they even know they are infected. This is why we all need to wear a mask or face covering when in public, even if we feel fine. We never know for sure if we — or someone else around us — is already infectious.

Every time we talk or laugh, we send tiny droplets into the air that may contain the coronavirus, which can infect others when they breathe them in. Simply put, wearing a mask over both our mouths and noses prevents COVID-19 from needlessly infecting others.

Wearing a mask may seem like a hassle. But, as an obstetrician and gynecologist who has worn countless face masks during my 30-year career to protect both my patients and myself, I can unequivocally tell you they work — and are definitely worth the hassle. Health care workers have always worn masks to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Long before the pandemic, many safely and comfortably wore masks for their jobs. Lab researchers, those in food service and production, and high-tech assembly workers have all worn masks for decades. Masks are made specifically to allow comfortable breathing. Some people with specific medical conditions may find wearing masks difficult, but the vast majority of us can do it without serious issues.

While face masks significantly reduce the virus' spread, they aren't a magic bullet. That's why it's important to combine mask-wearing with other simple and practical precautions, such as frequently washing hands, keeping at least a 6-foot distance from others, and not hosting or attending large gatherings, where you are more likely to come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

These simple, but crucial, actions are the bedrock of how we protect ourselves, our families and our community. They are also how we protect the economy and our jobs. Businesses cannot fully reopen and we cannot fully enjoy life again unless this pandemic is under control. Wearing a mask and physical distancing are two important ways for us to gain that control. None of us can afford to become complacent.

Dr. Renee Edwards is chief medical officer of Oregon Health & Science University.

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