CDC Weighs Advising Everyone to Wear a Mask

click to enlarge Woman wearing masks order from a gyro truck in Queens, March 26, 2020. Widespread use of nonmedical masks could reduce community transmission. But recommending their broad use could also cause a run on the kind of masks that health care workers desperately need. - BRYAN DERBALLA/THE NEW YORK TIMES
Bryan Derballa/The New York Times
Woman wearing masks order from a gyro truck in Queens, March 26, 2020. Widespread use of nonmedical masks could reduce community transmission. But recommending their broad use could also cause a run on the kind of masks that health care workers desperately need.

By Abby Goodnough and Knvul Sheikh
The New York Times

Should healthy people be wearing masks when they’re outside to protect themselves and others?

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly said that ordinary citizens do not need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. And as health care workers around the world face shortages of N95 masks and protective gear, public health officials have warned people not to hoard masks.

But those official guidelines may be shifting.


On Monday during the coronavirus task force briefing, President Donald Trump was asked whether Americans should wear nonmedical masks. “That’s certainly something we could discuss,” he said. “It could be something like that for a limited period of time.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, confirmed in an interview with National Public Radio on Monday that the agency was reviewing its guidelines on who should wear masks. Citing new data that shows high rates of transmission from people who are infected but show no symptoms, he said the guidance on mask wearing was “being critically re-reviewed, to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected.”

The coronavirus is probably three times as infectious as the flu, Redfield said. The proportion of people who are infected but asymptomatic — for 48 hours or so before showing any signs of fever, cough or other signs of the disease — may be as high as 25%, he said.

“That’s important, because now you have individuals that may not have any symptoms that can contribute to transmission, and we have learned that in fact they do contribute to transmission,” Redfield said.


A federal official said Tuesday the CDC’s review of mask wearing for the public stemmed from a request by the White House coronavirus task force, which is leaning toward recommending it.

One concern, which Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, voiced in an interview with CNN, is that such a recommendation could cause even worse shortages of N95 and other medical masks for health care workers, who need them most.

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