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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) (Image source: Public domain)
This is a very difficult time we are living in, and it doesn't help that we are continually getting mixed messages, especially since most of those come from the government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now considering a recommendation that people wear face masks when out in public, but before you hit up Amazon to place an order, thinking you can stop practicing social distancing, it's not exactly what you may be thinking.
CDC officials are considering altering the official guidance to encourage people to cover their faces while dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, according to an official. It is still an ongoing conversation, and the recommendations for right now still remain the same, that wearing a mask is not necessary.
New guidance would make clear that the public is still not advised to wear surgical or N95 masks, as hospitals and health-care workers still have a very short supply of them and are sometimes forced to either reuse them or do without. Instead, they are considering advising the public to use DIY clothing coverings over their face, said another official on Facebook, noting it would be a way to "flatten the curve."
Cloth masks that people fashion on their own could potentially lower risks that the wearer would transmit COVID-19 to other people. The CDC is still maintaining that healthy people do not need to cover their faces.
Donald Trump was asked at his Monday press briefing if everyone should wear non-medical fabric masks. "That's certainly something we could discuss," he said. "It could be something like that for a limit period of time."
Some scientists, health experts, pundits, and influencers continue to say that everyone who goes out in public or crowded places should wear a mask or face shield to lower the transmission rate of COVID-19.
The director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Thomas Inglesby, believes the CDC should be more proactive. "I think it would be a prudent step we can all take to reduce transmission," he said, for people who are infected but have no symptoms. DIY coverings, according to him, aren't perfect and should not be used so that social distancing can be discontinued.
The former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration in the Trump administration, Scott Gottlieb, who is also an internist, is the lead author of a pandemic-response plan that was published this weekend. This plan states that during the initial phase of rapid community transmission of the virus, "everyone, including people without symptoms, should be encouraged to wear non-medical fabric face masks while in public."
Gottlieb appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday and said, "A cotton mask — we should be putting out guidelines from the CDC on how you can develop a mask on your own."
The internist and his conservative allies acknowledge that improvised masks, including bandanas and surgical masks, don't provide protection from infection. But they limit the number of respiratory droplets a person wearing the mask can emit.
The CDC updated its strategy for "optimizing the supply of face masks" two weeks ago. In health-care settings where face masks are not available, providers may use DIY masks, including bandanas and services, "as a last resort" when caring for patients with COVID-19.
At this time the CDC is still encouraging everyone to practice social distancing and to not be within six feet of other people, especially if it's suspected they may be sick. The coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets that do not float through a room but fall quickly to the floor. While they can be produced through talking, they are more likely to travel via coughing or sneezing.
One of the fears with mentioning the need to cover your face is that the masks needed for the medical community will become even more limited. Because of this, Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, tweeted in late February, "STOP BUYING MASKS!"
Additionally, there is a fear that wearing a mask may give a false sense of security to the wearer and lead someone to be less disciplined about social distancing. There is also concern the mask could become contaminated and not properly cleaned or disposed of, which would then lead to the transmission of the virus.
A University of California at Irving epidemiologist, Ilhem Messaoudi, said in an email to the Post, "Given the shortage of PPE available to our healthcare workforce, it is irresponsible for anyone to suggest that we should all don masks, reducing the supply for nurses and physicians who do not have the luxury of treating symptomatic, very sick patients from six feet away."
Jeffrey Duchin, a health official in Seattle and King County, Washington, where the first cluster of COVID-19 formed in the United States, said the health department there does not recommend wearing masks, both because there is an uncertain benefit and because there's a shortage of masks for health-care workers.
"Homemade masks theoretically could offer some protection if the materials and fit were optimized, but this is uncertain," he said in an email. "It's also possible that mask-wearing might increase the risk for infection if other recommendations (like hand washing and distancing) are less likely to be followed or if the mask if contaminated and touched."
Yet, Duchin also didn't completely rule out wearing masks. "Well-designed homemade or commercially manufactured masks for the public that did not draw on the supply needed by healthcare workers could potentially provide some protection," he said.
In Hong Kong, people are encouraged to wear a surgical mask if taking public transit or spending time in a crowded area. The World Health Organization, however, suggests healthy people only need to wear a mask if they are taking care of a person who is suspected of having the virus.
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