When you get this disease, it hits you how easy it is to prevent. We are asked to wear cloth over our mouth and nose, wash our hands and avoid crowds. These minor inconveniences can save your life, your neighbors and the economy. Seldom has so little been asked for so much benefit. Yet the message will be broadly heeded only if it is consistently and honestly delivered by the media, religious leaders, sports figures and public servants. Those in positions of authority have a duty to get the message out.

One of the worst aspects of America’s divided politics is the polarization of something as practical as a mask. It’s not a partisan or cultural symbol, not a sign of weakness or virtue. It’s simply a good method—not a perfect one, but a proven one—to contain a cough or prevent the virus from getting in your mouth or nose. Wear it or you may regret it—as I did.

This doesn’t settle the larger political and scientific debate on how fast to reopen businesses and institutions. I remain a supporter of both strong public-health measures and rapid reopening. If leaders level with the American people, we can trust in the outcome. When Americans are given proper and consistent information, they will overwhelmingly make good health choices, including the wearing of masks. But that doesn’t work if partisan media and public officials send mixed messages.