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Remember the days when we wore masks for fun? Halloween, masquerade parties, ski trips?

Today, protective masks are one of the best-selling items on the market, with designs and flair that represent the unique personalities of their wearers.

Over the past four months, wearing a face covering for protection against the coronavirus has gone from uber cautious to loosely optional to highly recommended, mandatory in some states, and downright protest-worthy.

But that’s another story.

While protective face coverings are now ubiquitous, they’re hardly anything new. One might be surprised to learn that their origins date back to the 6th century B.C., when images of people with cloth over their mouths were discovered on the doors of Persian tombs.

Marco Polo’s travelogue observed that servants in China during the 13th century Yuan Dynasty were made to wear silks scarves over their mouths and noses when serving the emperor. This was to prevent their breath from affecting the taste and smell of his food.

The 14th century Black Death spread to Europe, creating a desperate need for face coverings. While hygiene and sanitization wouldn’t be well understood until the work of Viennese doctor Ignaz Semmelweis and others came to light, people nevertheless intuited that protecting their airways from contamination was crucial.

A 16th century French doctor, Charles de Lorme, created a frightening spectacle in the form of a beak mask with glass eye holes accompanied by a top hat, shawl, robe, trousers, gloves, shoes and a walking stick. This was his dramatic representation of the deadly plagues that were rampant in earlier centuries.

Over the ages, protective masks became less bizarre, more functional, and more effective at filtering out harmful germs and substances.

While several cities and states have lifted restrictions on sheltering in place, concerning upticks in certain areas are still making daily headlines, and health and other officials are emphasizing that masks really do reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

As the state of Illinois is one of a growing number across the country that requires citizens to wear masks in public, you won’t see residents of Naperville without one inside stores, restaurants, churches, and other buildings and businesses. The city has even issued do’s and don’t’s guidelines about face coverings.

Frontline workers are required to wear masks and other personal protective equipment with patients, as most had already been doing even before the pandemic. Staff in senior living communities are also widely mandated to wear masks to safeguard residents, other staff and themselves.

By and large, senior residents have not only understood and respected the reasons for the protocol, they’ve jumped into the protective action themselves.

At Monarch Landing, residents have enjoyed making masks for one another, and staff has educated residents of The Springs about the proper way to wear masks and why they are so important.

While we continue to safeguard ourselves and others by wearing masks (and perhaps get odd tan lines this summer!), let us remember why we’re doing it and hope to breathe easier in times ahead!