Opinion: Put a mask on it. No one wants to see your bare nose and mouth right now

A pupil wears a face mask as a precaution against the spread of the new coronavirus in Havana.
(Ramon Espinosa/Associated Press)

You! Yes, I’m talking to you: the person walking around with your lips and nose exposed for everyone to see.

What are you doing? Put a mask on it, already. No one wants to see that right now.

As of now and for the foreseeable future, if you head to the store or any place of business in Los Angeles, you must wear a face covering.


It’s the law: No face mask, no service. No kidding.

It’s also just a basic courtesy to the hard-working people who keep us stocked in organic kale and free-range eggs and risk their lives every time a customer breathes in their direction.

And it’s not even as strict a rule as it could be. Two Southern California counties, Riverside and San Bernardino, have gone a step further, requiring people to wear face coverings whenever they step out the door.

It’s not a bad idea. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who are in public settings wear a cloth face covering (not medical-grade face masks) to prevent transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, though not as a replacement for other social distancing measures. Sidewalks and parks are public settings, by the way.

So why are you still not wearing one?

Is it because just a few weeks ago the same public health officials were saying healthy people don’t need to wear face masks? In fact, they were even face mask-shaming, telling us to quit buying up N95 and surgical masks and save the already short supply for healthcare workers.

Jeez, just can’t trust the government, am I right?

That’s not what’s going on here.

The new guidance reflects the reality that this is a brand-new virus. It was discovered in December, and scientists are still scrambling to learn about it. As they unlock the mysteries of SARS-CoV-2, it’s completely reasonable for health authorities to revise and even reverse previous guidelines that have been rendered obsolete by new information. That’s what we want them to do.

It’s true public health officials pooh-poohed public use of masks at first. But that was before there was solid evidence that the virus was transmitted by sick people before they showed any symptoms or realized they were sick. Now that we have reason to suspect that the coronavirus is spreading this way, it seems reasonable to regroup and ask seemingly healthy people to cover their faces and keep their potentially murderous respiratory droplets to themselves.

That means you.

Public health officials have been reluctant to recommend or order face mask use during pandemics because they can be used incorrectly and actually increase exposure. And they fear face coverings convey a false sense of security, leading some mask-wearers to do risky things, such as congregating in large crowds. Just imagine a concert with 1,000 people squashed into a room and half of them fidgeting with their uncomfortable face masks. It’s a virus’ fondest dream.

Or maybe you aren’t using a face covering because just don’t have a face mask, a bandanna, a scarf or an aptitude for sewing. No problem. You can pick from any number of do-it-yourself versions available online using shoelaces, an old T-shirt, sheet or sock. If you don’t have any of those things, then ask a friend or family member.

Or even a stranger. Chances are they don’t want you wandering around outside with a bare face and exhalations as unencumbered as the spring breeze either.