I rarely see people wearing masks while walking their dogs. Do the animals provide protection from contracting the virus? Or are the owners worried that the mask might frighten or confuse the dog to the point it could not do its business? —Curious

It's unfortunate that the decision whether to cover one's face in the middle of a pandemic has become a flashpoint in the culture wars, but the battle lines have been drawn. Even as I write this, some redneck in Alabama is cutting the face out of his Klan hood so nobody will think he's wearing a mask.

That said, Curious, just because a lot of irresponsible right-wingers refuse to wear masks doesn't mean anybody not wearing a mask must be an irresponsible right-winger. COVID-19 patients aren't Medusa, where if you see their uncovered face from any distance you turn to stone. There are lots of situations where skipping the mask is perfectly fine.

Let's review: As has been noted elsewhere, you don't wear a mask so other people won't give you coronavirus; you wear it so you won't give it to other people. (It is probably this fact, with its implication of a duty to show consideration for one's fellow human beings, that so vexes the MAGA crowd, but I digress.)

Masks work by providing a mechanical barrier against the various fluids that normally spew unchecked from a person's mouth and nose—droplets of water when they exhale, mucus when they sneeze, flecks of spittle when they demand to speak to the manager of your Costco.

Public health experts believe this spewing is one of the easiest ways for the virus to spread, which is why mask-wearing is important any time you're going to be in close quarters with other people.

That said, if you're not close enough to someone to sneeze, cough or spit on them, you're unlikely to infect them whether you're wearing a mask or not.

Thus, the question of whether your dog-walkers are dicks turns on the density of the neighborhood they're walking in. If it's one where they can reasonably expect to keep 6 feet between themselves and others—and they carry a mask in case of unexpected crowds—they're in the clear.