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Follow all of PopSci’s COVID-19 coverage here, including tips on cleaning groceries, ways to tell if your symptoms are just allergies, and a tutorial on making your own mask.

United States President Donald Trump tweeted this week that wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is “patriotic.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word patriotic as, “having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.” With cases of COVID-19 surging in many US states, wearing a protective face covering is indeed a simple and effective way to help protect your country from sickness, death, and further economic upheaval. Here are the facts:

When it comes to COVID-19, the United States is in bad shape

The United States has now seen more than 3.85 million cases of COVID-19 since the virus emerged in Wuhan, China in December. More than 141,000 COVID patients have died in this country so far. While the initial hotspots of the US outbreak—mainly the New York City area—have managed to flatten the curve by shutting down businesses and imposing strict social distancing measures, record-breaking surges in other parts of the country suggest the worst is yet to come.

The CDC now suspects that testing from March to May likely missed 90% of actual COVID cases due to limited availability. Demand for COVID-19 testing is now so high that results can take up to two weeks, and the US now ranks 8th in the world in terms of COVID-19 fatality rate.

Wearing a mask is one of the easiest ways for you, as an individual, to help the US get through the COVID-19 pandemic

It may seem like experts have flip flopped on masks, but the truth is that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there simply had not been much research done on their ability to prevent the spread of respiratory illness. That, coupled with the fact that medical masks were in short supply for healthcare workers—who have enough exposure to sick and vulnerable people that even a small decrease in transmission could be life-saving—meant that many experts and sources, including PopSci, recommended that everyday folks forego masks.

Now, with several months of research and data being constantly examined by epidemiologists and virologists around the world, it’s become clear that covering your face works. Along with washing your hands frequently and staying away from people outside your own household as much as possible, mask wearing is the best tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID.

A properly designed and fitted mask will keep you from exposing nearby people to the aerosolized droplets—spit and snot—that are responsible for most COVID transmission. They do not lower your oxygen levels or otherwise put your own health at risk. In fact, they may even help protect you from the folks walking around without a mask, who are potentially spreading viral particles in the air (there’s less of a protective effect for the wearer, but it’s not nothing). Ideally, no one who was sick with the virus that causes COVID would go outside or interact with other people. But because research has shown that many people with COVID don’t show symptoms—yet can still spread the disease—wearing a mask while you’re out and about is the best way to avoid unwittingly passing the contagion around.

Other countries have long considered medical masks a sign of good citizenship and patriotism

In China, wearing face masks during times of illness has been en vogue since a 1910 outbreak, and many other Asian countries adopted the practices after SARS struck in 2003. Because masks primarily serve to prevent you from transmitting a disease to other people, wearing one when you have the sniffles (or when a global pandemic is afoot) is considered a sign of high civic responsibility—otherwise known as patriotism. Wearing a mask is not a symbol of weakness or fear; it’s a sign that you want to minimize the pandemic’s impact on your country and the people in it.

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How to be a patriot during a pandemic

If you want to express devotion and vigorous support for your country, you should do everything in your power to help minimize the spread of COVID-19. Even if your state or county has largely returned to business as usual, you can choose to minimize activities known to increase spread—and to wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing whenever possible.

Here’s a guide to buying (or making) a mask so you can proudly show off your love for your country every time you leave home.

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