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Don Rupp of Bellevue wears a face mask made by his wife while waiting in line outside Brickway Brewery & Distillery in Omaha earlier this month.

Some people, amid the uncertainties and strangeness of the virus emergency, question the need to wear a mask in public. It offers no guarantee of protection to the wearer, they say. That’s true, but it’s only one part of a far larger set of health considerations.

Consider the example of the many Midlanders who spend their entire work day interacting with customers or patients: Nurses at clinics and hospitals. Workers at grocery stores. Staff people at pharmacies. And as the economy gradually reopens, the number of workers interacting with customers will steadily increase.

Wearing a mask increases the protection for those workers by preventing the virus-laden water droplets from the mask wearer’s cough or sneeze from landing on them. Increasing evidence suggests that asymptomatic carriers can spread the virus in everyday life. And that, in turn, boosts the protection for the public as a whole, by decreasing the chances of community virus exposure.

That’s why health care providers now require people visiting doctor’s offices to don masks. It’s why Costco now has the same requirements for customers.

Wearing masks in public will likely become the norm for a while, as our society copes warily with the virus threat. It’s a necessary, sensible step recommended now by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vice President Mike Pence set the right example on Thursday by wearing a mask in visiting a GM plant in Indiana. That was a welcome turnaround from Pence’s decision to go mask-free Tuesday when he visited one of the nation’s pre-eminent medical centers, the Mayo Clinic.

Health authorities offer various recommendations for mask usage: Keep the mask tight enough to provide a good seal. Use them no more than three or four hours at a time, then wash them in hot water and dry them thoroughly before the next use. Wash hands for 20 seconds before putting on a mask and after taking it off. Don’t touch the outside of the mask while wearing it or touch your face under the mask.

Health officials note, too, that masks don’t replace the good hygiene procedures now so familiar — social distancing and proper hand washing, for example. All these steps, masks included, are part of a regimen we all should now be following, to protect ourselves and our communities.

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