While health officials spent the beginning of the pandemic uncertain about whether or not face masks would mitigate the transmission of COVID-19, they have now assured the public that we must continue to wear face coverings if we want to protect the economy and save thousands of lives.
Current guidance from the CDC says 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,” CNN reports. “Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms,” the health institute said.
Researchers have provided some new statistics to back up the CDC. If 95% of Americans wore face masks in public, then we can avoid 33,000 deaths by Oct. 1, according to the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
However, guidance regarding face masks has flip-flopped during the course of the pandemic. Now, scientists have figured out that it’s easily spread through talking and breathing; it’s highly contagious, with one person infecting two or three people on average; it can be spread from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers; it has an incubation period of up to 14 days; and carriers can be most contagious during the 48 hours before they’re symptomatic.
At the pandemic's outset, there was also a scarcity in N95 respirators and PPE for healthcare workers who were on the front lines. In March, the WHO and CDC said that healthy people shouldn’t wear face masks, instead reserving those for people who are sick or taking care of the sick. However, in April, the CDC and US Surgeon General Jerome Adams reversed that guidance—and then in June, the WHO followed suite.
The U.S.’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci has also pushed the public to wear face masks, particularly as states reopen, more people go out into the public, and state cases swell. “Plan A: Don't go in a crowd. Plan B: If you do, make sure you wear a mask,” Fauci said during Congressional testimony on Tuesday regarding the Trump administration's response to coronavirus.
Fauci said he doesn’t regret telling the public to not wear masks during the early stages of the pandemic.
“At that time, there was a paucity of equipment that our health care providers needed -- who put themselves daily in harm's way of taking care of people who are ill,” he said.
“We did not want to divert masks and PPE (personal protective equipment) away from them, to be used by the people." But now, Fauci said, "we have enough.”