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Why should I wear a face mask in public during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Properly wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth prevents you from spreading germs when speaking, coughing, or sneezing.

Health experts in the United States, including the CDC, are advising everyone to wear a cloth face mask when they are out in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.

But while many people are complying, if you go out to the grocery store or to pick up food at a local restaurant, you'll notice many people are not wearing a mask.

You just have to check social media to see why some of them aren't.

Wearing a mask doesn't do anything to keep me from getting sick.

That's true, actually. But that's not really the point of wearing a mask. The mask is to stop people who may not know that they have COVID-19 from spreading it to others.

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"Masks protect the people around you. Me wearing mine protects you and you wearing yours protects me," said Charity Menefee with the Knox County Health Dept. on Monday.

There is mounting evidence that a large part of the population could have COVID-19 but not be showing symptoms. Last week, the Tennessee Dept. of Corrections said that 1,246 inmates and staff tested positive for COVID-19, and 98 percent of those who tested positive were asymptomatic.

They can't make me wear a mask.

No, they can't. In Tennessee, anyway.

While Gov. Bill Lee and local leaders are urging people to wear masks, there is no one enforcing that recommendation.

Many businesses are requiring their employees to wear masks, and they can likely enforce that within their business, but that's up to them.

So you don' t have to wear a mask. But health officials would really like you to so we can continue to slow the spread as we open businesses and people start getting out more.

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And not just wear a mask. Continue to maintain six feet of separation between other people and wash your hands and use hand sanitizer.

"This isn't over," said Menefee. "The more people cooperate and continue to do what we're asking, hopefully, that curve will stay flat and we'll continue to move through these phases."

Menefee is referring to Knox County's phased reopening plan, which relies on several factors to keep progressing. If the infection rates start increasing rapidly, it may cause leaders to scale back the reopening efforts.

I don't have a mask.

We get it. Not everyone has masks lying around the house and some people still don't want to go out and try to find one.

There are many local crafters and businesses making and providing masks, so check your social media. You can also order them online from places like Amazon, and you can even make your own!

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