Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday that officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and President Trump’s coronavirus task force are discussing whether to urge all Americans to wear masks when in public.
While airborne transmission is rare, it is still possible to catch the virus that way. But Fauci said U.S. health officials fear such a recommendation could reduce the supply of masks to health care workers.
“When we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening” guidelines, including masks, he said. “We’re not there yet.”
But there are other recommendations that Americans simply wear coverings on their mouths and noses when in public, not necessarily medical masks or N95 respirators. While the masks don’t prevent people from getting the virus, people wearing masks would greatly cut down on the germs they cough into the air.
At the daily White House briefing Monday, Trump was asked if Americans should wear nonmedical masks.
“That’s certainly something we could discuss,” Trump said, adding, “it could be something like that for a limited period of time.”
Thomas Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Washington Post that the CDC should urge people to use nonmedical masks or face coverings.
“I think it would be a prudent step we can all take to reduce transmission” by people who are infected but have no symptoms, he said. DIY coverings — like the ones his children just fashioned from old clothes for his family — aren’t perfect and should not be used as an excuse to stop social distancing, he said.
As the virus started to spread across the U.S., Americans began buying up masks — some, hoarding them. Online, N95 respirators were going for $75 or more. But most people don’t know how to use the medical masks properly, and they are for one-time use only.
The hoarding got so out of hand that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams took to social media to tell people to stop buying masks.
“Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Adams, an anesthesiologist who has been surgeon general since 2017, wrote on Twitter.
“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!” Adams wrote.
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
Adams also tweeted: “The best way to protect yourself and your community is with everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness.” He also said: “Avoid touching your [face] w/ unwashed hands, and wipe down surfaces with cleaning solution or wipes.”
Adams said then that wearing masks may even worsen the spread.
“You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a health care provider,” Adams said during an interview on Fox & Friends.
“Folks who don’t know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus,” Adams said. “We’re certainly seeing more spread in communities, but it’s important for folks to know that right now their risk as American citizens remains low. There are things people can do to stay safe. There are things they shouldn’t be doing and one of the things they shouldn’t be doing in the general public is going out and buying masks.”