WASHINGTON (CN) – Cloth face mask coverings can be used voluntarily to slow and prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to a new announcement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new recommendation came Friday during the White House coronavirus taskforce press briefing, now a regular occurrence at the White House. President Donald Trump said repeatedly that he would not wear a mask.
“I just don’t want to wear one myself. They recommend it. I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to do be doing it. I think sitting behind that great resolute desk, wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, king, queens, I don’t see it for myself,” Trump said to a group of reporters seated six feet apart from each other. “Maybe I’ll change my mind, this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly but with that being said, if somebody wants to, most people can just make something. So it’s very well designated and very simple to do. I won’t be doing it personally, it’s a recommendation.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams acknowledged the Trump administration had initially recommended the public not wear the masks because “the best evidence at the time,” Adams said, did not suggest whether a healthy person wearing a mask could lessen the risk of contracting coronavirus.
What has changed is the realization that a significant portion of people don’t show symptoms are still capable of spreading the virus to people near them through activities like speaking, coughing or sneezing.
“In light of this, cloth face coverings are recommended where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, like in grocery stores or pharmacies and especially in areas with rates of high transmission,” Adams said.
The CDC and Surgeon General both strongly urge people who choose to wear face masks to wash their hands first and refrain from touching their face while wearing the face covering.
“You can take germs from the surface and bring it to your face,” Adams said.
N95 masks, still a much-needed protective device for health care workers on the frontlines, should not be worn by anyone else except those professionals.
It is also imperative that people realize wearing a mask is not a substitute for the six-foot social distancing rule.
“This is all about me protecting you and you protecting me. This is about us coming together as communities and if people voluntarily try to wear a face covering, they are working to protect their neighbors because they may have asymptomatic spread,” the U.S. surgeon general said.
CDC director Robert Redfield reiterated the importance of keeping a proper distance from people again Friday but added: “We know now there may be individuals in areas of significant community transmission that may be asymptomatically infected and the purpose of a face covering is to protect someone from spreading the virus from themselves to someone else.”
The World Health Organization, like the CDC, initially discouraged wearing cloth masks and some health experts suggested it was counterintuitive and would prompt people to touch their faces more since wearing one can be uncomfortable or awkward.
But the novel coronavirus has permeated every state and case rates continue to soar even as large-scale testing lags. According to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, as of Friday, more than 273,800 people in the United States have contracted the virus and so far the U.S. leads the world in confirmed case rates. There are now over 7,000 Americans dead from the virus, over twice the number of Americans killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
A study in Nature published Friday found that through seasonal human coronaviruses, influenza viruses and rhinoviruses, when particles are exhaled with a cough, surgical face masks by far reduce the number of droplets transmitted. Cloth face coverings, while helpful at slowing the spread, are not as effective.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease – absent from Friday’s taskforce briefing – appeared on CNN late Thursday and acknowledged that while there were active discussions among members of the Trump administration and health care officials about whether people should don cloth masks, the facts on asymptomatic transmission bear it out.
Wearing them, Fauci said, is just common sense.