Over the last six months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shifted their official stance on protective face coverings more than once. Early on in the pandemic, the governmental health organization didn’t recommend for Americans to wear face masks in public, instead, discouraging them due to a PPE shortage in healthcare. Then, in April the CDC changed their tune, suggesting that Americans wear protective cloth or fabric masks, explaining that “cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.” Some states even made wearing masks mandatory. And, now, after multiple studies have confirmed that face masks can efficiently prevent the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has shifted their policy once again.
This time, they are using much more forceful language, saying you should wear a mask whenever in public.
On June 25, the governmental agency updated several of their coronavirus guidelines, adding a much stronger clause about face masks. In it they instruct that, “Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public, for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.”
However, they remind you that cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
They also clarified that wearing a mask isn’t necessarily to protect yourself from getting infected, but from infecting others if you are asymptomatic.”The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected,” they continue.
Additionally, when it comes to the type of mask you should wear, they urge the use of cloth or disposable, but you should “NOT use a facemask meant for a healthcare worker.”
Finally, they urge you to continue social distancing, keeping 6 feet apart from others—even if you are wearing a mask, as “The cloth face cover is not a substitute for social distancing.”
Infection Rates Drop With Masks
While experts were initially on the fence as to whether masks were effective in preventing person-to-person transmission, a number of studies have confirmed that they are an important protection method. One of the most recent, published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, compared infection rate trends in Italy and New York, before and after wearing face masks was the status quo. The infection rates dropped in both places following the implementation of face mask rules. Between April 6 and May 9, more than 78,000 infections were prevented in Italy and 66,000 in New York as a result.
“Wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with simultaneous social distancing, quarantine, and contact tracing, represents the most likely fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic, prior to the development of a vaccine” researchers of the study wrote.
According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, if 95% of Americans wore face masks in public, it could prevent 33,000 deaths by October 1.
Now, Infections Are Hitting Record Highs
Unfortunately, as shelter-in-place orders have been loosened across the country, many people have been failing to abide by the CDC’s recommended practices—including mask wearing—and infection rates are hitting record highs in many areas of the country.
Some states, including California, are amping up their mask mandate. Per Governor Gavin Newsom, people in the state are now required to wear masks in public settings —including public transportation and healthcare facilities—when social distancing isn’t possible.
“Simply put, we are seeing too many people with faces uncovered—putting at risk the real progress we have made in fighting the disease,” Newsom has said. “California’s strategy to restart the economy and get people back to work will only be successful if people act safely and follow health recommendations. That means wearing a face covering, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing.” So do that please! And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.