That guidance could soon change.
In a Wednesday interview on Good Morning America, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had been asked to review its guidance on wearing masks.
“We’ve learned there’s a fair amount of asymptomatic spread and so we’ve asked the CDC to take another look at whether or not having more people wear masks will prevent transmission of the disease to other people,” Adams said on Good Morning America.
“Even if you do wear a mask, it can’t be at the expense of social distancing,” he continued, noting a mask like an N95 would not be necessary because it could come at the expense of health care workers who needed one.
Responding to a video clip of the interview on Twitter, the Surgeon General’s account said health officials, including the Surgeon General’s office, the CDC, and the World Health Organization, had previously recommended against the general public wearing face masks “based on the best available science at the time regarding whether or not they prevent wearers from catching coronavirus.”
At the end of February, the Surgeon General’s Twitter account put out an all-caps plea to Americans to “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they were “NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.”
The CDC’s current guidance on masks is that sick people should wear masks, but healthy people should not unless they are in contact with COVID-19 patients.
“CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19. You should only wear a mask if a healthcare professional recommends it. A facemask should be used by people who have COVID-19 and are showing symptoms,” says the CDC’s guidance on COVID-19 protection.
In a Monday press briefing, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme Dr. Mike Ryan told reporters there was “no specific evidence” to suggest there was any “particular benefit” to the mass public wearing masks.
Outside the United States and Europe, mask-wearing is a more common practice. In a March 27 interview with Science Magazine, Chinese CDC director-general George Gao said the “big mistake in the U.S. and Europe” was that “people aren’t wearing masks.”
Masks could help protect against the spread of the disease through droplets, or against “asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections,” according to Gao.
“If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others,” he said.