During a CBS News appearance on Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams defended remarks he made on the show back in March when he was still cautioning people to not wear face masks because, when it comes to getting infected with coronavirus, they “do not work for the general public.”
“It’s important for people to understand that once upon a time, we prescribed cigarettes for asthmatics, and leeches and cocaine, and heroin for people as medical treatments. When we learn better, we do better,” said Adams, who was wearing a face mask to communicate the need to wear masks — which the available evidence also suggests is a good idea.
“Are you saying, at that time, you did not know – because the CDC, in February, was looking at asymptomatic transmission of the virus,” responded CBS News anchor Margaret Brennan, who previously pointed out that the administration’s mask guidance changed in April.
“We were looking at that,” said Adams, “but the CDC, the WHO, and even in May, there was a New England Journal of Medicine article that still disputed whether or not masks were effective.”
Since the beginning of the pandemic, continued Adams, public health officials have learned that “up to fifty percent of people who can spread this disease, spread it without having symptoms.” The surgeon general used this informational bit as an example of why recommendations can change – because what we know can change.
After acknowledging the importance of wearing masks or face coverings, Brennan pushed back against Adams, asking whether he thought the “mixed messaging” has created the opportunity for confusion.
As Adams explained his need “to correct that messaging,” Brennan asked bluntly: “Were you saying that then because there just wasn’t enough equipment?”
Adams responded: “I was saying that then because everything we knew about coronaviruses, before that point, told us that people were not likely to spread when they were asymptomatic. So the science at the time suggested that there was not a high degree of asymptomatic spread. We learned more.”
“There also was, as you mentioned, a very real concern about hoarding of PPE, and people dressing up in trash bags, as health care workers. That was a part of it. But the primary reason was because that’s what the science said. And I want the American people to understand, we follow the science, and when we learn more, our recommendations change,” said Adams.
As Brennan noted in the interview, back in late-February, Adams tweeted for people “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they are “NOT effective in preventing” the general public from coronavirus.
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
According to a literature review of dozens of COVID-19 studies and other relevant studies, the “preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts.”
“Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high. The decreased transmissibility could substantially reduce the death toll and economic impact while the cost of the intervention is low. Thus we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies,” said the scientific paper.
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