The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that though masks should be prioritized for health workers, face coverings of any sorts for the general public is advised. The health agencies have updated their recommendations regarding the use of face masks accordingly.
Grateful to join @POTUS to share latest from @WhiteHouse #COVID19 Task Force. While 30 Day #StayAtHome guidance remains our most powerful weapon against this virus, CDC’s recommendation on wearing cloth face covering can also help protect most vulnerable. https://t.co/jhU7jyJKwd pic.twitter.com/g4PKNRvqma
— Dr. Robert R. Redfield (@CDCDirector) April 4, 2020
“We must preserve medical surgical respirator masks for our frontline workers. But the idea of using respiratory coverings or mouth coverings to prevent coughing or sneezing projecting disease into the environment and towards others … that in itself is not a bad idea,” says Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s executive director of Health Emergencies Programme.
WHO is now saying that there may be some possibility of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, which has now infected over 1.1 million people worldwide. However, the agency is adamant that main reason for this transmission is the infected people coughing and sneezing, and contaminating surfaces and other people in the process.
The CDC has also changed its recommendation regarding face masks. It is saying that now everyone must wear them, at least in public.
White House has also adopted the measure and is advising the general public to do so too. However, White House is sending mixed messages. President Trump in a daily coronavirus briefing said that it is a voluntary thing: “You can do it. You don’t have to do it. I am choosing not to do it. It may be good. It is only a recommendation, voluntary.”
WATCH: Trump calls CDC guidance on face masks "voluntary."
Trump: "You don't have to do it. … I don't think I am going to be doing it." pic.twitter.com/lRLbgSx9lK
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) April 3, 2020
“Millions of Americans are going to be confused by this mixed message," Rep. Shalala says after President Trump said he would not follow the CDC's voluntary guidelines on wearing face masks.https://t.co/P6x3HL1Hhk
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 4, 2020
Face Mask or No Face Mask – What Experts Say
During early days of the coronavirus pandemic, many health experts were actively discouraging people from using masks.
“STOP BUYING MASKS!” tweeted the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams, at the end of February. He had advised the public that masks should be left only for health care workers because if they cannot get them, it puts them and communities at risk. All this while countries like South Korea and Japan distributed masks to their public. Slovakia and Czech Republic even made them mandatory.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 30, 2020
He has now announced at press conference that face masks are essential in public as studies show that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus infection do not show symptoms and can unknowingly transmit the virus to others.
#DYK? CDC’s recommendation on wearing a cloth face covering may help protect the most vulnerable from #COVID19. Watch @Surgeon_General Jerome Adams make a face covering in a few easy steps. https://t.co/bihJ3xEM15 pic.twitter.com/mE7Tf6y3MK
— CDC (@CDCgov) April 4, 2020
This shift in tone came after number of cases have increased exponentially both in the US and the world. A recent public health report by American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recommended that everyone should be using some assembly of face coverings while in public.
An epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, Jennifer Nuzzo, says that she is worried that a call such as this for general use of masks could strain already weak supplies that are available for doctors and nurses.
WHO officials and CDC experts both agree with this conclusion and are recommending that people use face coverings of other sorts where masks are not available. This can include scarves, bandanas, glasses, goggles and even home sewn masks. CDC is recommending use of cloth masks that can be made at home.
According to experts, these masks will not completely ensure everyone’s safety; however, people who are asymptomatic can in this way infect lesser people with coronavirus.
A previous review about use of masks to prevent respiratory illnesses has found that use of masks does prevent spread of disease to a significant degree. Another scientific review of studies on the subject found that washing hands 10 times a day is 55% effective, use of masks alone is 68% effective, and a combination of masks, gloves, hand-washing, and gowns is 91% effective, in preventing the spread of another coronavirus disease called SARS.
This does not mean other measures like good hygiene, washing hands, not touching your face, or social distancing are not valid anymore. Studies and modelling experts concur that if social distancing is relaxed now, it could potentially cause millions of deaths just in America alone. Use of masks is just an added recommendation and should be taken seriously at this stage.
White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told reporters that this recommendation can lead American public to a false sense of security. She added that now more than ever there is a need to follow White House’s social distancing guidelines, which are not being followed to the extent as they should.
War for Masks
Countries around the globe are scrambling to find personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves and masks. The French have termed it as guerre des masques meaning ‘the war of the mask’. The masks are being diverted to the highest bidder. The bidding is also causing the prices of masks to increase.
France is accusing United States of hijacking the masks they ordered from China. Multiple leaders from France are saying that American customer are trying to snatch away their consignments by agreeing to pay 3-4 times more for the products. It was not made clear which authorities in America were doing this. No specific allegations were made. German Health Minister Jens Spahn also leveled the same allegations.
Je tiens à rappeler que les masques de @MaRegionSud sont en route et n’ont pas été achetés par une puissance étrangère. La logistique de l’opération est assurée par @cevalogistics, filiale mondiale du groupe @cmacgm. Merci encore à @RodolpheSaade pour son appui essentiel! pic.twitter.com/QRBeY4Ww3V
— Renaud Muselier (@RenaudMuselier) April 1, 2020
The director of Sud region in France alleged that Americans are paying more prices for the cargo and taking the masks away from regions who ordered them. He later said on Twitter that masks for his region are safe and are about to reach them.
The prime minister of France in an interview added that securing deliveries for masks was not easy right now as their demand was all time high in United States, Europe and the whole world.
France has previously seized all the masks being made in the country. Many companies there were forced to cancel orders placed by other countries. Spain, France, Germany and the UK are all trying to accelerate domestic production of PPE.
The United States is also stopping American produced PPE to be shipped overseas. Vice President Mike Pence is instead asking suppliers to distribute and sell their goods within America.
Breaking: The administration has placed a moratorium on USAID’s overseas shipments of personal protective gear. Move comes after US asked Thailand for help last week only to be told that a US shipment of the same supplies was already on its way to Bangkok. https://t.co/oY3z499xsr
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) April 1, 2020