The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its strongest endorsement yet for the widespread wearing of masks, saying Tuesday that face coverings protect both the wearer and those around them from the spread of COVID-19.
“Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation,” the CDC wrote in a scientific briefing.
The updated guidance is the agency’s most overt statement on mask-wearing, issued as the country endures the worst phase of the pandemic so far. More than 10 million Americans have now tested positive for COVID-19, with 1 million new cases of the virus in November alone (even though we are just 10 days into the month). The number of hospitalizations for the virus has hit an all-time high, and the country has averaged more than 116,000 new cases each day for the past week.
The CDC said Tuesday that COVID-19 spreads predominantly through respiratory droplets “generated when people cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe.” Masks help prevent infected people from spreading those droplets and also help keep healthy people from inhaling them.
In a message more specific than others it has issued on the topic, the CDC also said that even a 15% increase in mask-wearing throughout the U.S. could save $1 trillion in economic losses and avert future shutdowns.
President Donald Trump has refused to institute a mask mandate and has often declined to wear a face mask himself, even after he contracted the coronavirus. He has also demeaned those who do wear face coverings, attempting to create a false impression that the country has moved past the pandemic and that it’s time to reopen the economy against the advice of top health officials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, has continued to throw water on those claims and has warned the worst is yet to come.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt. It’s not a good situation,” Fauci told The Washington Post last month just days before the election. “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”
President-elect Joe Biden, for his part, assembled a COVID-19 advisory board this week laden with public health experts and medical professionals. While he doesn’t enter the White House until January, Biden has already urged all Americans to wear masks and said he plans to speak with the nation’s governors and local officials to encourage them to institute sweeping mask mandates as soon as he is in office.
“It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day,” Biden said Monday. “It doesn’t matter your party, your point of view. We could save tens of thousands of lives if we just wear masks for the next few months.”