My husband went in the basement and rummaged around awhile before he emerged carrying an old face mask.

“Aren’t you glad I save everything,” he said as he handed it over.

It was old and dusty. He’d worn it a few years ago while tearing up old carpet in a rental unit we were renovating. But since we’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and there’s a nationwide shortage of protective gear, it didn’t hold the same ick factor for me that it normally might have.

Plus, unlike a standard surgical mask, which many folks have been wearing, this model was somewhat snug around my nose. It was better than nothing, I figured.

I wore it when we ventured out on Monday to the Costco in Mount Laurel. My plan was to get in and out of that enormous warehouse store as quickly as possible.

Metro Columnist Jenice Armstrong dons a mask on her way to grocery shop. She plans to wear one when she's in public until the pandemic ends to guard against contracting the coronavirus.
Jenice Armstrong
Metro Columnist Jenice Armstrong dons a mask on her way to grocery shop. She plans to wear one when she's in public until the pandemic ends to guard against contracting the coronavirus.

I was pushing my grocery basket through the freezer section when I noticed a middle-aged guy laughing and looking in my direction. I probably looked a little strange with the hood of my pink rain jacket covering my head and a mask covering my mouth and nose. He said, “They say you’re only supposed to wear that if you’re infected with the coronavirus or caring for someone who has it."

I had heard the same thing and started to tell him as much, but I didn’t have to because his wife shot back, “That’s what they say.”

Indeed.

A SEPTA bus driver wears a face mask and holds a can of Lysol spray as she looks out the window during a stop in Center City Philadelphia on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
A SEPTA bus driver wears a face mask and holds a can of Lysol spray as she looks out the window during a stop in Center City Philadelphia on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Experts are divided about whether it makes sense for us to wear masks to help protect against catching the coronavirus, which can be spread through contaminated droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Initially, authorities told us not to wear surgical and N-95 masks because they are in such short supply and desperately needed by health-care workers.

But now it looks as if that thinking is shifting. According to the Washington Post, authorities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering changing official guidance to encourage people to cover their faces.

Earlier this week, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, said the task force also is discussing whether to change its recommendation.

Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine Co. and a pediatric and adult general surgeon, says we should wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.
Handout
Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine Co. and a pediatric and adult general surgeon, says we should wear face masks to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

Besides, some experts think it’s not a bad idea to cover your face with even a bandanna.

“My opinion is YES we should be wearing masks in public. Four out of five people … did not know that they had the virus when they spread it to others," Dr. Ala Stanford, founder of the R.E.A.L. Concierge Medicine Co., told me via email Tuesday. "The mask does confer some prevention of spread and transmission of disease. The mask prevents your respiratory droplets, somewhat, from landing on a surface, someone’s body part, or the air.

“At this point, we only have something to gain, and everything to lose, by not instituting mask wearing, and that is more lives,” added Stanford, an adult and pediatric surgeon. "We are in catch-up, reactive mode, not preventative. This measure should help and we need incoming help from all sects of our nation to combat this deadly virus.”

Still, there’s a worry that masks provide a false sense of security that might encourage people to stop practicing social distancing. Then, there’s the very real risk that consumers will start hoarding them. Please don’t do that. You can make your own masks or tie something around your face.

“The danger in requiring masks or encouraging them through social pressure is that we don’t have enough supplies to protect everyone,” pointed out Katie Foss, the author of Constructing the Outbreak: Media in Epidemics and Collective Memory. "Health professionals and others need them to do their essential jobs safely more than average, healthy people for brief trips. "

I thought of all of that as I headed out to shop.

If anything, wearing a mask reminded me that we are in the midst of a pandemic and not to touch my face.