Not all masks are created equal. The quality matters, especially if you are looking for a mask that protects you from others, not just others from you. A cotton mask offers far less protection than a level 2 or level 3 surgical mask. For cotton masks, generally thicker is better, and cotton-and-polyester blends tend to provide more protection. An N95 or equivalent mask offers the best protection from inhaling someone else’s infectious droplets or aerosols. Look up instructions for fit testing if you go this route. A fleece mask is unlikely to do much.

There’s a presumption that a mask mandate would have to be backed up with fines and set off scuffles with law enforcement. Not necessarily. States should be able to choose how to enforce a mandate, but the goal should be to make masks a social and cultural norm, not a political statement. There are lots of things we do because there is a community expectation of civil behaviors: No shoes, no service. Clean up after your dog. Many of these are even codified in city ordinances.

Mandating masks has become divisive only because it was framed that way by some politicians and commentators. Some states such as Wisconsin and Utah are setting up field hospitals. Deaths are starting to rise again, and vaccines won’t be widely available until next year even in the best-case scenario. Everyone banding together to wear masks, for a limited time, will be the least costly way for society to weather a difficult winter.