Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said on Tuesday that a universal masking policy could bring the coronavirus epidemic “under control” in four to eight weeks, just one day after stating that cloth masks “may” help reduce the spread of the virus.
“The time is now,” Redfield said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). “I think if we can get everyone to wear masks right now, we can bring this under control within four, six, eight weeks.”
While the CDC did not initially recommend the general public to wear non-medical grade masks at the start of the pandemic, the organization formally issued the guidance in April.
“I think we’re being very clear now,” Redfield stated on Tuesday. “Now’s the time to wear a mask.”
He also said President Trump should “set an example” by wearing one.
The effectiveness of non-medical grade face coverings remains a point of debate. Redfield, just one day prior to his Tuesday remarks, stated that cloth masks “may” provide protection from the virus, but the CDC’s official guidance does not state it as a certainty:
Cloth face coverings may help prevent the spread of #COVID19 when they are widely used in public settings. When you wear a face covering, you help protect those around you. When others wear one, they help protect people around them, including you. https://t.co/y7OS257JWt pic.twitter.com/dBVOAPHNN1
— Dr. Robert R. Redfield (@CDCDirector) July 13, 2020
The CDC released a study on Tuesday based on two hairstylists in Missouri who tested positive for the virus but did not transmit the virus to any of their 139 clients.
“With the potential for presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission, widespread adoption of policies requiring face coverings in public settings should be considered to reduce the impact and magnitude of additional waves of COVID-19,” the CDC wrote.
While the CDC cites previous studies showing that “both surgical masks and homemade cloth face coverings can reduce the aerosolization of virus into the air and onto surfaces,” it notes that “no studies have examined SARS-CoV-2 transmission directly.” Nonetheless, the CDC states that “data from previous epidemics support the use of universal face coverings as a policy to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2, as does observational data for COVID-19 in an analysis of 194 countries that found a negative association between duration of a face mask or respirator policy and per-capita coronavirus-related mortality.”
However, other studies emphasize the lack of a consensus on the matter. The New England Journal of Medicine, in a May study titled “Universal Masking in Hospitals in the Covid-19 Era,” stated, “We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection”:
Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.
While it pointed out that masks, in hospital settings, are an essential part of basic personal protective equipment (PPE), it found that “universal masking alone is not a panacea” and must be coupled with additional protective measures:
A mask will not protect providers caring for a patient with active Covid-19 if it’s not accompanied by meticulous hand hygiene, eye protection, gloves, and a gown. A mask alone will not prevent health care workers with early Covid-19 from contaminating their hands and spreading the virus to patients and colleagues. Focusing on universal masking alone may, paradoxically, lead to more transmission of Covid-19 if it diverts attention from implementing more fundamental infection-control measures.
The study suggested, more than once, that universal masking policies may provide more of a psychological benefit than a practical one.
“There may be additional benefits to broad masking policies that extend beyond their technical contribution to reducing pathogen transmission,” the Journal stated.
“Masks are visible reminders of an otherwise invisible yet widely prevalent pathogen and may remind people of the importance of social distancing and other infection-control measures,” it continued, stating that masks serve as “symbolic roles.” It also referred to them as “talismans that may help increase health care workers’ perceived sense of safety, well-being, and trust in their hospitals” and stated that “such reactions may not be strictly logical.”
“Expanded masking protocols’ greatest contribution may be to reduce the transmission of anxiety, over and above whatever role they may play in reducing transmission of Covid-19,” the Journal stated.
Breitbart News’s John Nolte explained further:
Even so, the Journal’s warning for healthcare workers points out that a mask is still not very helpful “since it does not provide protection from droplets that may enter the eyes or from fomites on the patient or in the environment that providers may pick up on their hands and carry to their mucous membranes.”
“What is clear, however, is that universal masking alone is not a panacea. A mask will not protect providers caring for a patient with active Covid-19 if it’s not accompanied by meticulous hand hygiene, eye protection, gloves, and a gown,” the Journal adds.
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) goes even further: “Masks should only be used by health care workers, caretakers or by people who are sick with symptoms of fever and cough,” said Dr. April Baller, a public health specialist for the W.H.O.
Baller adds that the danger to a healthy person wearing a mask is a “false feeling of protection” — which is something the CDC warned of early on during this pandemic, back when we were told not to wear masks.
Despite the Journal’s original findings, it issued an update on June 3, claiming that the “intent of our article was to push for more masking, not less.”
Regardless, the CDC chief claimed that a mask policy is “not a political issue — it’s a public health issue.”
“Keeping the health system from being overstretched is really going to be important,” Redfield said. “To the degree we’re going to be able to do that will define how well we will be able to get through the fall and winter.”