On Thursday, the White House said it is likely to soon adjust previous policies that prevent non-health workers from wearing face masks. The change would be issued as "guidance" by the CDC, but according to the president, who remains reluctant to exercise federal power during the COVID-19 crisis, it is not made mandatory.
The supply of masks for medical purposes is still running out critically in many places, which the coronavirus will or will soon hit hard. Due to the persistent shortage, the new guidelines are expected to affect only fabric and non-medical facewear.
In the White House press conference on Thursday, Dr. Deborah Birx, Coordinator of the Coronavirus Task Force, that the updated guidelines represent an "additive" protective measure and are not intended to be a replacement. "When the advisory comes out … when it comes out … it will be an additive piece," said Birx.
Birx suggested that the White House and the CDC were reluctant to offer the new Mask Council because they feared that people would loosen critical social detachment measures that would prove key to efforts to contain the United States. “We don't want people to feel like“ Oh, I am ”I wear a mask, I am protected and protect others. & # 39; "
When Birx explained the thinking behind the new fabric mask precaution, Trump offered his own unfounded interpretation of the information. "If people wanted to wear them, they can," said Trump. "In many cases, the scarf is better, it's thicker," he mistakenly added.
The new guidelines are expected in the coming days and will come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Washington Post memos, the CDC began examining a mask's recommendation as it was shown that people with no symptoms transmitted the virus. A draft directive states that the CDC "… recommends the use of community masks as an additional public health measure that people can take to prevent viruses from spreading to their surroundings."
On Wednesday, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, urged residents to cover their faces in public, while stressing that N95 and surgical masks go directly to medical workers.
Early data indicate that many infected people are not symptomatic. For this reason, we recommend using fabric face covers and physical distance for important activities.
Do not use surgical and N95 masks reserved for first responders and medical personnel.
– MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) April 2, 2020
Across the country, there is already a basic effort by artisans to create self-made masks for health workers who cannot get adequate PPE and for others who want to take the protective measure. Many online resources provide patterns and instructions on mask construction and even sewing-free methods. New federal recommendations on fabric masks could also offer companies the opportunity to offer helpful resources in the fight against COVID-19, as many companies take creative steps to stay afloat.
While wearing masks outside the pandemic is also routine in countries like Japan and South Korea, western countries are generally less familiar with the practice. Social norms can be exacerbated by confusing news from officials asking Americans to donate medical masks to health workers, while indicating that the masks do not provide protection against the virus in everyday situations.
"Seriously people – stop buying masks!" US General Surgeon Jerome Adams tweeted in late February. "They are NOT effective in preventing the public from getting #Coronavirus. However, if healthcare providers cannot get them to care for sick patients, they and our communities are at risk!"
This messaging may have proven useful in the earliest days of the crisis, as Americans hoarding masks for personal use could worsen an already limited supply of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.
Cloth masks are less effective than medical masks, but their use, even if it is not perfect, is better than nothing to limit the spread of the virus. In a cautious little study from 2013 that looked at the effectiveness of homemade masks in the event of a flu pandemic, the researchers recommended that fabric masks "only be considered as a last resort … but it would be better than no protection".
This study, published by Cambridge University Press, found that both homemade cloth masks and traditional surgical masks "significantly" reduced the amount of potentially infectious droplets that were expelled from the wearer, although surgical masks were three times better to prevent transmission. Because homemade masks are less disposable than medical masks, they should be washed after use to remove infectious droplets.
On Thursday, health officials carefully stressed that using a mask doesn't mean it's okay to relax physical distance measures.
"Remember it's not a substitute for everything we ask people to do!" Birx said.