The White House said on Thursday that it would soon adjust the previous guidelines that discourage lay health workers from wearing face masks. The change would be released as a CDC “directive,” but according to the president – who continues to hesitate to exercise federal power during the COVID-19 crisis – it will not be made mandatory.
The supply of medical-grade masks is still extremely low in many places hard hit – or soon hit hard – by the coronavirus. Due to persistent shortages, the new directives should apply only to fabric and not medical blankets.
In Thursday’s White House press briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the coronavirus task force, stressed that the updated guidelines were an “additive” protective measure, not a substitute. “When the notice comes out … if it comes out … it will be an add-on,” said Birx.
Birx suggested that the White House and the CDC were reluctant to offer advice on the new mask because they feared that people would soften the critical social distancing measures that will prove essential to US containment efforts. We don’t want people to feel like “oh I’m wearing a mask, I’m protected and I’m protecting others.” »»
As Birx explained the thinking behind the new precaution of cloth masks, Trump offered his own unfounded interpretation of the information. “If people wanted to wear them, they can,” said Trump. “In many cases, the scarf is better, it is thicker,” he added, wrongly.
The new directions are expected in the coming days and will come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In memos obtained by the Washington Post, the CDC began to consider the recommendation for a cloth mask because of the evidence that people without symptoms transmit the virus. A draft copy of the policy says the CDC “… recommends the community use of cloth masks as an additional public health measure that people can take to prevent the spread of the virus to those around them.”
Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti on Wednesday urged residents to cover their faces in public while stressing that the N95 and surgical masks are being sent directly to medical workers.
A grassroots effort by artisans is already emerging across the country to create home-sewn masks for health workers who cannot obtain proper PPE and others who want to take protective measures . Many online resources offer practical models and resources on building masks and even seamless methods. New federal recommendations for cloth masks could also offer companies the opportunity to offer useful resources in the fight against COVID-19, as many companies are creative in staying afloat.
While wearing a mask is a routine even outside of pandemic periods in countries like Japan and South Korea, western countries are generally less comfortable with this practice. Social norms can be exacerbated by confusing messages from officials who have urged Americans to give medical masks to health workers while suggesting that the masks do not offer protection against the virus in everyday situations.
“Seriously, stop buying masks! »American Surgeon Jerome Adams tweeted end of February. “They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if health care providers cannot get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” “
This message may have been helpful in the early days of the crisis, as Americans hoarding masks for personal use could worsen an already tight supply of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.
Cloth masks are less effective than medical masks, but their use, however imperfect, is better than nothing to help limit the spread of the virus. In a small, prescient study in 2013 examining the effectiveness of homemade masks in the event of an influenza pandemic, researchers recommended that cloth masks “only be considered as a last resort … but it would be better than no protection” .
This research, published by Cambridge University Press, found that homemade cloth masks and traditional surgical masks “drastically” reduce the amount of potentially infectious droplets expelled by the wearer, although surgical masks are three times better at preventing transmission. Because homemade masks are less disposable than medical masks, they should be washed after use to get rid of infectious droplets.
Health officials were careful to point out on Thursday that using a mask does not mean that it is okay to release physical distance measurements.
“Remember, this is not a substitute for everything we ask people to do! Said Birx.