News and Commentary

U.S. Surgeon General: Here’s Why CDC And WHO Recommend Healthy People Do NOT Wear Masks
Jerome Adams speaks during a press briefing about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, March 14, 2020.
Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Appearing on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams cautioned against healthy people in the general public wearing cotton masks if they are not already sick from the coronavirus, asserting, “Wearing a mask improperly can actually increase your chances of getting a disease. It can also give you a false sense of security.”

Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade asked, “You told us a couple of weeks ago, ‘Don’t walk around with masks; they’re not going to help. If you’re sick, it might stop you from getting other people sick, but we shouldn’t do it.’ Have you changed your recommendation now, because the president seems to think that maybe eventually we’re all going to be walking around with masks. Do they help or not?”

Adams responded:

Brian, you and I have talked about this a lot. It’s important to understand that we are looking at the data every single day, that we make the best recommendations to the American people we can based on what we know. What the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks.

Here’s why: on an individual level, there was a study in 2015 looking at medical students, and medical students wearing surgical masks touched their face on average 23 times. We know a major way that you can get respiratory diseases like coronavirus is by touching a surface and then touching your face. So wearing a mask improperly can actually increase your chances of getting a disease. It can also give you a false sense of security; if you’ve seen many of these pictures of people out and about closer than six feet to each other but still wearing a mask.

Adams continued, “On a population level, it’s important for people to know that we tell sick people to wear masks so that you don’t transmit disease to others, but again, if that encourages people to get together too close, then you may mitigate the effect or cancel out the effect of people wearing masks.  And then finally there’s consequences, and we still have PPE shortages across the country; the WHO mentioned this in their statement. So we want to make sure we are reserving PPE for the people who most need it. That’s how you’re going to get the largest effect, because if health care workers get sick, they can’t take care of you if you get sick … The data doesn’t show that it helps individuals. Here’s the bottom line: if you’re sick, wear a mask.”

Kilmeade pointed out, “We know in China they walk around with them,” to which Adams responded, “Yes. And they have a culture there of wearing masks and everyone already has one and they’re more accustomed to wearing them without touching their faces.” He added, “If you’re sick, wear a mask. If you have a mask and it makes you feel better, then by all means wear it. But know that the more you touch your face the more you put yourself at risk. And know that right now the data isn’t quite there to say that there’s a net benefit to the individual of wearing a mask.”

Kilmeade asked if Adams foresaw a time when the general public would wear N-95 masks.

Adams answered, “Certainly not the N-95s because the N-95 you have to get fit-tested. And as a medical professional, I can’t just go out and wear an N-95; I have to make sure it’s properly fitted and I have the right size in order for it to work properly. There may be a day when we change our recommendations, particularly for areas that have large spread going on, about wearing cotton masks, but again, the data’s not there yet. We’re continuing to follow it; CDC’s looking at it and we’ll put out new recommendations if the guidance warrants, but WHO and CDC right now say that’s not what they recommend.”