That same week, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), appeared before lawmakers. Asked if people should wear masks, he had a straightforward answer: “No.”Now he’s not so sure. On Monday, Redfield said told NPR that the CDC was reviewing its guidelines and may recommend general mask use to guard against community infection. It’s likely only a matter of time before other mask holdouts, most prominently the World Health Organization (WHO), follow suit.
Pivot To Protection.
Writing last month, Adrien Burch, an expert in microbiology at the University of California, Berkeley, noted that “despite hearing that face masks ‘don’t work,’ you probably haven’t seen any strong evidence to support that claim. That’s because it doesn’t exist.”In fact, there is evidence of the exact opposite: that masks help prevent viral infections like the current pandemic.
Burch pointed to a Cochrane Review — a systemic analysis of published studies on a given topic — which found strong evidence during the 2003 SARS epidemic in support of wearing masks. One study of community transmission in Beijing found that “consistently wearing a mask in public was associated with a 70% reduction in the risk of catching SARS.”SARS, like COVID-19, is a respiratory illness caused by the same family of viruses called coronavirus. While SARS spread around the world, the worst of the epidemic was focused in Asia, particularly mainland China and Hong Kong.
The legacy of this experience could be seen early on in the current pandemic, as news of a virus spreading led people across the region to don face masks to protect themselves. From the beginning, Hong Kong and many other Asian governments have recommended people wear masks in public, whether they are showing virus symptoms or not. Despite eye-rolling in some parts of the Western press and talk of Asia’s “obsession” with face masks, the tactic appears to have contributed in helping to stem the outbreak. What do You need to Know About Coronavirus?
Taiwan, South Korea, and mainland China, all places with widespread mask use, have seen greater success in preventing major outbreaks or reigning them in once they begin than in Europe and North America where masks are either not used or hard to come by.
Speaking to CNN, Ivan Hung, an infectious diseases specialist at the Hong Kong University School of Medicine, said that “if you look at the data in Hong Kong, wearing a mask is probably the most important thing in terms of infection control.”And it not only brings down the cases of coronaviruses, but it also brings down influenza,” he said. “In fact, this is now the influenza season, and we hardly see any influenza cases. And that is because the masks actually protected not only against coronaviruses but also against the influenza viruses as well.”
Wedding dress and evening wear designer Friederike Jorzig adjusts a mannequin wearing a wedding dress at her store in Berlin on Tuesday, March 31.
People pray next to the grave of musician Robson de Souza Lopes after his burial in Manaus, Brazil, on March 31. According to authorities at the Amazonas Health Secretary, the 43-year-old died after being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Chris Lindberg hands out free lunch to a truck driver at a rest area along Interstate 10 in Sacaton, Arizona, on March 31. The Arizona Trucking Association was giving away 500 Dilly’s Deli lunches to show its appreciation for truck drivers who have been delivering medical supplies, food, and other necessities during the coronavirus pandemic.
Traffic police wear coronavirus-themed helmets as they participate in a campaign to educate the public in Bangalore, India, on March 31.
The USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship, reaches New York City on Monday, March 30. Another hospital ship is in Los Angeles. Both will take some of the pressure off medical facilities that are strained because of the coronavirus pandemic.
An emergency field hospital is constructed in New York’s Central Park on Monday, March 30.
Farmers deliver vegetables to a customer in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher, France, on Sunday, March 29.
People listen from their homes as priests conduct Sunday mass from a church roof in Rome on March 29.
Volunteers in protective suits spray disinfectant on storefronts in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 29.
Gyorgy David Jablonovszky and his bride, Timea, are joined by close relatives during their wedding ceremony in Miskolc, Hungary, on Saturday, March 28. Because of the coronavirus, engaged couples across the globe have had to rethink their walks down the aisle.
Huntington Beach, California, and its shuttered pier are empty on March 28. The city closed its pier and parking lots along the beach to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus. A waiter serves takeout in Moscow on March 28.
A worker fixes partitions at a quarantine center in Guwahati, India, on March 28.
Devices used in diagnosing the coronavirus are inspected in Cheongju, South Korea, on Friday, March 27. The devices were being prepared for testing kits at the bio-diagnostic company SD Biosensor.
A student does homework in Bratislava, Slovakia, on March 27. Schools have been shut down across the world, and many children have been receiving their lessons online.
A National Guard truck sprays disinfectant in Caracas, Venezuela, on March 27.
People wearing face masks walk near the USNS Mercy after the Navy hospital ship arrived in the Los Angeles area to assist local hospitals dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Pope Francis prays in an empty St. Peter’s Square on March 27.
Coffins carrying coronavirus victims are stored in a warehouse in Ponte San Pietro, Italy, on Thursday, March 26. They would be transported to another area for cremation.
A screen advises motorists to stay home in Manchester, England.
Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard prepare to take part in disinfecting the city of Tehran on March 25.
Lydia Hassebroek attends a ballet class from her home in New York on March 25.
People visit the Beijing Zoo on March 25 after it reopened its outdoor exhibits to the public.
The Olympic flame is displayed in Iwaki, Japan, on March 25, a day after the 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed.
People practice social distancing as they wait for takeout food at a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 24.
Authorities are seen in Madrid, where an ice rink has been converted into a makeshift morgue to cope with the coronavirus fallout.
A tourist wears a face mask while visiting the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China on March 24. The section reopened to visitors after being closed for two months.
People arrive at the South Municipal Cemetery in Madrid to attend the burial of a man who died from the coronavirus.
A normally busy street is mostly empty in Pattaya, Thailand, on March 23. Hide Caption
Passengers arrive at Hong Kong International Airport on March 23.
Giuseppe Corbari holds Sunday Mass in front of photographs sent in by his congregation members in Giussano, Italy, on March 22. Many religious services are being streamed online so that people can worship while still maintaining their distance from others.
People clap from balconies to show their appreciation for health care workers in Mumbai, India.
A woman attends a Sunday service at the Nairobi Baptist Church in Nairobi, Kenya, on March 22. The service was streamed live on the internet.
A Syrian Red Crescent member sprays disinfectant along an alley of the historic Hamidiyah market in Damascus, Syria.
People are seen on California’s Huntington Beach on March 21. Crowds descended on California beaches, hiking trails and parks over the weekend in open defiance of a state order to shelter in place and avoid close contact with others.
A funeral service is held without family members in Bergamo, Italy, on March 21.
A member of the Syrian Violet relief group disinfects tents at a camp for displaced people in Kafr Jalis, Syria, on March 21.
A doctor examines Juan Vasquez inside a testing tent at St. Barnabas Hospital in New York on March 20.
A Mass in Rio de Janeiro honors coronavirus victims around the world on March 18. Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue was lit up with flags and messages of hope in solidarity with countries affected by the pandemic.
Medical staff wearing protective suits ride down an escalator at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport on March 18.
Hasidic Jewish men take part in a “social distancing” minyan in New York on A patient in a biocontainment unit is carried on a stretcher in Rome on March 17.
A pedestrian walks a dog through a quiet street in New York on March 17.
People gather to collect free face masks in New Delhi on March 17.
Dermot Hickey left, and Phillip Vega asks a pedestrian in New York to take their picture on a thinly trafficked Fifth Avenue on March 17. Many streets across the world are much barer as people distance themselves from others. In the United States, the White House advised people not to gather in groups of more than 10.
Students at the Attarkiah Islamic Schoolwear face masks during a ceremony in Thailand’s southern province of Narathiwat on March 17.
People wait outside a Woolworths store in Sunbury, Australia on March 17. Australian supermarket chains announced special shopping hours for the elderly and people with disabilities so that they can shop in less crowded aisles.
A member of Spain’s Military Emergencies Unit carries out general disinfection at the Malaga airport on March 16.
Displaced families near Atme, Syria, attend a workshop aimed at spreading awareness about the coronavirus.
French President Emmanuel Macron is seen on a screen in Paris as he announces new coronavirus containment measures on March 16. France has been put on lockdown, and all nonessential outings are outlawed and can draw a fine of up to €135 ($148). Macron also promised to support French businesses by guaranteeing €300 billion worth of loans and suspending rent and utility bills owed by small companies.
A police officer checks the temperatures of bus passengers at a checkpoint in Manila, Philippines, on March 16.
Flowers are stored prior to their destruction at a flower auction in Aalsmeer, Netherlands, on March 16. Lower demand due to the coronavirus outbreak is threatening the Dutch horticultural sector, forcing the destruction of products.
Body temperatures are scanned as people enter the Buddhist temple Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand, on March 13.
Two nuns greet neighbors from their balcony in Turin, Italy, on Sunday, March 15.
Pope Francis, inside the Church of San Marcello in Rome’s city center, prays at a famous crucifix that believers claim helped to save Romans from the plague in 1522.
Passengers wait for their flights at Marrakesh Airport in Morocco on March 15.
US Vice President Mike Pence takes a question during a White House briefing about the coronavirus on March 15.
A Sea World employee sprays disinfectant in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Saturday, March 14.
People wait in line to go through customs at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on March 14. Travelers returning from Europe say they were being made to wait for hours at US airports, often in close quarters, as personnel screened them for the coronavirus.
Hundreds of people lined up to enter a Costco in Novato, California, on March 14.
Many people have been stocking up on food, toilet paper, and other items. As a response to panic buying, retailers in the United States and Canada have started limiting the number of toilet paper that customers can buy in one trip.
A member of the White House physician’s office takes a media member’s temperature in the White House briefing room on March 14. It was ahead of a news conference with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
A nurse in Cremona, Italy, takes a moment in this heartbreaking photo posted to Instagram by photographer Paolo Miranda. Italy’s health care system has been severely tested by the coronavirus pandemic.
Reporters in Arlington, Virginia, sit approximately 4 feet apart during a briefing by Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie on March 13.
People walk past a closed Broadway theater on March 13 after New York canceled all gatherings over 500 people.
A Costco customer stands by two shopping carts in Richmond, California, on March 13.
A teacher works in an empty classroom at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Spain.
A woman looks at an empty bread aisle in Antwerp, Belgium, on March 13.
Employees of the Greek Parliament wear plastic gloves ahead of the swearing-in ceremony for Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
A motorcyclist drives through disinfectant sprayed in Jammu, India, on March 13.
Workers prepare to construct an additional building on a hospital on the outskirts of Moscow.
Paul Boyer, head equipment manager of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, wheels out equipment bags in Washington on March 12. The NHL is among the sports leagues that have suspended their seasons.
Students leave Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish, Washington, on March 12. Beginning the following day, schools in the Snohomish school district planned to be closed through April 24.
An Uber Eats delivery biker stands at a deserted Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
People at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, watch a live broadcast of US President Donald Trump on March 12. Trump announced that, in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, he would sharply restrict travel from more than two dozen European countries.
Workers in protective suits disinfect Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace on March 11.
A person wearing a face mask walks outside of a shopping mall in Beijing on March 11.
Police officers restrain the relative of an inmate outside the Sant’Anna jail in Modena, Italy, on March 9. Riots broke out in several Italian jails after visits were suspended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Medical staff in Wuhan, China, celebrate after all coronavirus patients were discharged from a temporary hospital on March 9.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on March 9. Stocks plummeted as coronavirus worries and an oil price race to the bottom weighed on global financial markets.
Rescuers search for victims at the site of a collapsed hotel in Quanzhou, China, on March 8. The hotel was being used as a coronavirus quarantine center.
The Grand Princess cruise ship, carrying at least 21 people who tested positive for coronavirus, is seen off the coast of San Francisco on March 8. The ship was being held at sea.
Sumo wrestlers attend a tournament in Osaka, Japan, that was being held behind closed doors because of the coronavirus outbreak.
A couple rides a bicycle at a park in Seoul, South Korea, on March 7.
A volunteer from Blue Sky Rescue uses fumigation equipment to disinfect a residential compound in Beijing on March 5.
Airmen from the California National Guard drop coronavirus testing kits down to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California on March 5.
Municipal workers are seen at the Kaaba, inside Mecca’s Grand Mosque. Saudi Arabia emptied Islam’s holiest site for sterilization over coronavirus fears, an unprecedented move after the kingdom suspended the year-round Umrah pilgrimage.
Passengers react as a worker wearing a protective suit disinfects the departure area of a railway station in Hefei, China, on March 4.
Teachers at the Nagoya International School in Japan conduct an online class for students staying at home as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.
Soldiers spray disinfectant throughout a shopping street in Seoul.Photos: The novel coronavirus outbreak.
A Muslim worshipper attends a mass prayer against coronavirus in Dakar, Senegal, on March 4. It was after cases were confirmed in the country.
People wear face masks in New York’s Times Square on March 3. New York reported its first case of coronavirus two days earlier.
A security guard stands on the Shibuya Sky observation deck in Tokyo on March 3.
US President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, left, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, speaks during a meeting with pharmaceutical executives and the White House coronavirus task force on March 2.
Throughout the meeting, Trump was hyperfocused on pressing industry leaders in the room for a timeline for a coronavirus vaccine and treatment. But experts at the table — from the administration and the pharmaceutical industry — repeatedly emphasized that a vaccine can’t be rushed to market before it’s been declared safe for the public.
Medical staff stands outside a hospital in Daegu, South Korea, on March 1.
Healthcare workers transfer a patient at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, on March 1. The long-term care facility is linked to confirmed coronavirus cases.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a London laboratory of the Public Health England National Infection Service.
Tomoyuki Sugano, a professional baseball player on the Yomiuri Giants, throws a pitch in an empty Tokyo Dome during a preseason game on February 29. Fans have been barred from preseason games to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Commuters wearing masks make their way to work during morning rush hour at the Shinagawa train station in Tokyo on February 28.
Medical staff transport a coronavirus patient within the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan on February 28.
Inter Milan plays Ludogorets in an empty soccer stadium in Milan, Italy, on February 27. The match was ordered to be played behind closed doors as Italian authorities continue to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.
A bank clerk disinfects banknotes in China’s Sichuan province on February 26.
A child wearing a protective face mask rides on a scooter in an empty area in Beijing.
A Catholic devotee wears a face mask as he has sprinkled with ash during Ash Wednesday services in Paranaque, Philippines, on February 26.
People disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine in Tehran, Iran, on February 25.
A worker in Daegu stacks plastic buckets containing medical waste from coronavirus patients on February 24.
Paramedics carry a stretcher off an ambulance in Hong Kong on February 23.
People attend a professional soccer match in Kobe, Japan, on February 23. To help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the soccer club Vissel Kobe told fans not to sing, chant or wave flags in the season opener against Yokohama FC.
A team of volunteers disinfects a pedestrian bridge in Bangkok, Thailand.
A man rides his bike in Beijing on February 23.
Hospital personnel in Codogno, Italy, carry new beds inside the hospital on February 21. The hospital is hosting some people who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Doctors look at a CT scan of a lung at a hospital in Xiaogan, China, on February 20.
A sales clerk wears a mask as she waits for customers at a hat shop in Beijing on February 18. Small companies that help drive China’s economy are worried about how much damage the coronavirus outbreak will cause a business.
Buses carrying American passengers arrive at the Haneda Airport in Tokyo on February 17. The passengers were leaving the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship to be repatriated to the United States.
A medical worker rests at the isolation ward of the Red Cross hospital in Wuhan on February 16.
Authorities watch as the Westerdam cruise ship approaches a port in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, on February 13. Despite having no confirmed cases of coronavirus on board, the Westerdam was refused port by four other Asian countries before being allowed to dock in Cambodia.
A worker has his temperature checked on a shuttered commercial street in Beijing on February 12.
Beds are made in the Wuhan Sports Center, which has been converted into a temporary hospital.
A child rides a scooter past a police officer wearing protective gear outside the Hong Mei House in Hong Kong on February 11. More than 100 people evacuated the housing block after four residents in two different apartments tested positive for the coronavirus.
Relatives of quarantined passengers wave at the Diamond Princess cruise ship as it leaves a port in Yokohama, Japan, to dump wastewater and generate potable water. Dozens of people on the ship were infected with coronavirus.
The Deneway branch of the County Oak Medical Centre is closed amid coronavirus fears in Brighton, England, on February 11. Several locations in and around Brighton were quarantined after a man linked to several coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom came into contact with health-care workers and members of the public.
A police officer, left, wears protective gear as he guards a cordon at the Hong Mei House in Hong Kong on February 11.
A worker wears a protective suit as he waits to screen people entering an office building in Beijing on February 10. China’s workforce is slowly coming back to work after the coronavirus outbreak forced many parts of the country to extend the Lunar New Year holiday by more than a week.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has his temperature checked during an appearance in Beijing on February 10.
Photojournalists wearing face masks take photos of a bus carrying passengers after they disembarked from the World Dream cruise ship in Hong Kong on February 9. More than 5,300 people were quarantined on two cruise ships off Hong Kong and Japan.
People participating in a Lunar New Year Parade in New York City hold signs reading, “Wuhan stay strong!” on February 9.
A shopper walks past empty shelves at a grocery store in Hong Kong on February 9. China’s Ministry of Commerce encouraged supermarkets and grocery stores to resume operations as the country’s voluntary or mandatory quarantines began to take an economic toll.
A worker wearing a protective suit uses a machine to disinfect a business establishment in Shanghai, China, on February 9.
Workers in protective gear walk near the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama on February 7.
People in Hong Kong attend a vigil February 7 for whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang. Li, 34, died in Wuhan after contracting the virus while treating a patient.
A woman grieves while paying tribute to Li at Li’s hospital in Wuhan on February 7.
The Anthem of the Seas cruise ship is seen docked at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, New Jersey, on February 7. Passengers were to be screened for coronavirus as a precaution, an official with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CNN.
A light installation is displayed by striking members of the Hospital Authority Employees Alliance and other activists at the Hospital Authority building in Hong Kong on February 7.
Passengers are seen on the deck of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked at the Yokohama Port on February 7.
Flight attendants wearing face masks make their way through Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok on February 7. Workers check sterile medical gloves at a latex-product manufacturer in Nanjing, China, on February 6.
A woman wears a protective mask as she shops in a Beijing market on February 6.
This aerial photo shows the Leishenshan Hospital that is being built in Wuhan to handle coronavirus patients.
A passenger shows a note from the World Dream cruise ship docked at the Kai Tak cruise terminal in Hong Kong on February 5.
A mask is seen on a statue in Beijing on February 5.
An ambulance stops at a traffic light in front of the Grand Lisboa Hotel in Macao. The virus turned China’s gambling mecca into a ghost town.
A dog in Beijing wears a makeshift mask constructed from a paper cup.
Striking hospital workers in Hong Kong demand the closure of the border with mainland China on February 4.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship sits anchored in quarantine off the port of Yokohama on February 4. It arrived a day earlier with passengers feeling ill.
A medical worker wearing protective gear waits to take the temperature of people entering Princess Margaret Hospital in Hong Kong on February 4.
Medical workers in protective suits help transfer patients to a newly completed field hospital in Wuhan.
People wearing protective overalls talk outside a Wuhan hotel housing people in isolation on February 3.
A man stands in front of TV screens broadcasting a speech by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on February 3. Lam said the city would shut almost all border-control points to the mainland.
A colleague sprays disinfectant on a doctor in Wuhan on February 3.
Commuters in Tokyo walk past an electric board displaying dismal stock prices on February 3, the first business day after the Chinese New Year. Asia’s markets recorded their worst day in years as investors finally got a chance to react to the worsening coronavirus outbreak.
Medical workers move a coronavirus patient into an isolation ward at the Second People’s Hospital in Fuyang, China, on February 1.
Children wear plastic bottles as makeshift masks while waiting to check in to a flight at the Beijing Capital Airport on January 30.
Passengers in Hong Kong wear protective masks as they wait to board a train at Lo Wu Station, near the mainland border, on January 30.
A volunteer wearing protective clothing disinfects a street in Qingdao, China, on January 29.
Nanning residents line up to buy face masks from a medical appliance store on January 29.
Lyu Jun, left, a member of a medical team leaving for Wuhan, says goodbye to a loved one in Urumqi, China, on January 28.
A charter flight from Wuhan arrives at an airport in Anchorage, Alaska, on January 28. The US government-chartered the plane to bring home US citizens and diplomats from the American consulate in Wuhan.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in wears a mask to inspect the National Medical Center in Seoul on January 28.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, center, attends a news conference in Hong Kong on January 28. Lam said China will stop individual travelers from Hong Kong while closing some border checkpoints and restricting flights and train services from the mainland.
Workers at an airport in Novosibirsk, Russia, check the temperatures of passengers who arrived from Beijing on January 28.
Alex Azar, the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, speaks during a news conference about the American public-health response.
Two residents walk in an empty park in Wuhan on January 27. The city remained on lockdown for the fourth day.
A person wears a protective mask, goggles, and coat as he stands in a nearly empty street in Beijing on January 26.
Medical staff members bring a patient to the Wuhan Red Cross hospital on January 25.
People wear protective masks as they walk under Lunar New Year decorations in Beijing on January 25.
Construction workers in Wuhan begin to work on a special hospital to deal with the outbreak on January 24.
Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, speaks to reporters on January 24 about a patient in Chicago who had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The patient was the second in the United States to be diagnosed with the illness.
A couple kisses goodbye as they travel for the Lunar New Year holiday in Beijing on January 24.
Workers manufacture protective face masks at a factory in China’s Hubei Province on January 23.
Shoppers wear masks in a Wuhan market on January 23.
Passengers are checked by a thermography device at an airport in Osaka, Japan, on January 23.
People wear masks while shopping for vegetables in Wuhan on January 23.
A militia member checks the body temperature of a driver in Wuhan on January 23.
Passengers wear masks as they arrive at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines, on January 23.
A customer holds boxes of particulate respirators at a pharmacy in Hong Kong on January 23. Passengers wear masks at the high-speed train station in Hong Kong on January 23.
- A woman rides an electric bicycle in Wuhan on January 22.
- People in Guangzhou, China, wear protective masks on January 22.
- People go through a checkpoint in Guangzhou on January 22.
- The medical staff of Wuhan’s Union Hospital attends a gathering on January 22.
Health officials hold a news conference in Beijing on January 22.
At the beginning of March, Hong Kong had only around 150 cases of the virus, despite being on the frontlines of the pandemic since it began and not instituting many of the more draconian population controls seen elsewhere. The city has only seen a spike recently after people began returning to the city from Europe and the US.
“Based on the research, face masks are much more likely to help than to hurt,” according to Burch. “Even if it’s just a homemade cloth mask, if you wear it correctly and avoid touching it, the science suggests that it won’t hurt you and will most likely reduce your exposure to the virus.”
In its guidance on the coronavirus, the CDC notes that it spreads primarily “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneeze,” which “can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”
The agency recommends that people who are sick wear a face mask or otherwise attempt “to cover your coughs and sneezes,” while those caring for them should also wear a face mask whenever they are in the same room. Yet, in the same advice, the CDC said that non-symptomatic “do not need” to wear face masks, adding that they “may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.”
And this is what has been so frustrating and confusing for many people, particularly those who advocate for wearing face masks as a precaution. The CDC, along with the WHO and several other public health bodies and experts, has been simultaneously claiming that masks do not offer protection in ordinary circumstances while stating they are necessary for health workers and caregivers.
This conflicting advice helped create confusion and no small amount of hostility towards officials who people felt were lying to them and putting them at risk. There were numerous replies to Adams’ tweet about masks in February asking “why are masks good for healthcare workers but not for the public?”
Writing last month in the New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci, a professor of information science, said that “to help manage the shortage, the authorities sent a message that made them untrustworthy.”
“Providing top-down guidance with such obvious contradictions backfires exactly because lack of trust is what fuels hoarding and misinformation,” she said, adding that if officials were concerned about shortages, they should have stated this outright, and asked people to donate masks they had bought to hospitals, not claimed they were ineffective in the first place.”When people feel as though they may not be getting the full truth from the authorities, snake-oil sellers and price gougers have an easier time.”
Trying to avoid mask shortages for healthcare workers appears to have been the main priority of those arguing against widespread their widespread use. But while the motivation behind this may have been good, such advice may have actually helped spread the virus, thus adding to the number of patients overwhelming hospitals.
One of the reasons the CDC’s Redfield gave for potentially changing the guidance on masks is that the coronavirus can be spread when people are asymptomatic, and therefore having everyone covering their faces — as has been the norm in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia since January — could help rein in transmission.
That the virus is spread before people feel sick is not news, however. It’s been widely supposed since the first weeks of the outbreak, and evidence has only grown stronger in recent months.
And even if there was not asymptomatic transmission, universal or near-universal mask-wearing has its uses. As others have noted, instructing only the sick to wear masks is essentially asking people to put a sign on themselves inviting fear and hostility, whereas if everyone wears a mask when outside, the sick are more likely to do so, thus protecting people around them. The lack of masks and other protective equipment in hospitals across the US and other countries should be remedied as fast as possible.
But these shortages were caused by policy failures and supply chain issues, not a sudden run on 75 cent paper masks by concerned members of the public.
As the evidence increasingly comes round in favor of masks, we must ask how many infections might have been avoided if in January, instead of saying masks wouldn’t help, officials and the media had instead lobbied for factories to ramp up domestic production, provided guidance on how to make masks at home, and asked other countries to donate surplus materials?
This post was originally published on edition.cnn.com