During a press briefing on Friday, President Trump claimed that the CDC plans to recommend that all Americans nationwide wear face masks when in public. The recommendation would represent a change from current guidance, which advises that the public only wear face masks when they are sick or showing symptoms of the coronavirus. During the briefing, Trump repeatedly said that the new guidance will be a recommendation, not a requirement.
In the press briefing that took place on Friday, Trump said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will recommend that Americans wear face masks when in public to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. When asked for clarification, Trump said the recommendation will be for the entire nation, not just coronavirus hotspots.
In response to a question over whether the federal government would require Americans to wear masks and, if so, how it would prevent hoarding of N95 respirators, Trump said:
Well, I think they’re going to be coming out with regulations on that. And if people want to abide by them, frankly, I don’t think you — I don’t think there’ll be mandatory, because some people don’t want to do that. But if people wanted — as an example, on the masks, if people wanted to wear them, they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which they have — many people have them — they can. In many cases, the scarf is better; it’s thicker. I mean you can — if you — depending on the material, it’s thicker. But they can do that if they want.
He went on to say that an official nationwide CDC recommendation on face masks will be ‘coming out’ before passing the topic over to Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the Coronavirus Task Force.
Birx spent some time talking about the data and stressed that social distancing and hand washing are still the ‘most important’ preventative step in preventing the spread of this virus. She said that health officials fear that face masks could give the public a false sense of security, potentially reducing the most important preventative measures and increasing transmission.
For that reason, Dr. Birx said that “When the advisory comes out, it will be an additive piece … we want to make sure everybody understands, it is not a substitute for the presidential guidelines that have already gone out, and to be absolutely clear about that.”
A number of countries are requiring their populations to wear face masks when in public, including the Czech Republic, where many people have started sewing fabric face masks for the public. Public health officials have repeatedly stressed that the general public should reserve surgical masks and N95 respirators for healthcare workers, many of whom are forced to go without masks or use less effective substitutes to help protect themselves from the virus.
As for the US, Trump said that he likely will not wear a face mask. As of late Friday, April 3, the CDC’s ‘Protect Yourself’ guidance on its COVID-19 website still states that the public should only wear face masks when sick or showing symptoms of an illness. This recommendation has been called into question due to the ‘silent’ nature of many coronavirus infections, which present either zero or very few symptoms and largely go undetected.