On Wednesday of this week, Mayor Garcetti of Los Angeles suggested people wear face masks when going out, and the Governor of Vermont made a similar announcement today. It also came up in the press conference this morning with Governor Cuomo in my state, New York. And, I have seen many friends posting on social media about making and buying cloth face masks. To date, mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the general public has stated that people should wear masks if they are sick or caring for someone who is sick (see image below).
However, several opinion leaders, officials, and articles have suggested that the CDC may be changing their guidelines on face mask use. Stat news provides a good update about these potential changes. They explain the main idea is that it might help prevent the spread of COVID-19 from people who are not having symptoms (if you have symptoms you should be staying home).
In another article published this week by Ed Yong in the Atlantic, you can read a thorough overview of the mask discussions. He cites a few studies that show that homemade masks can provide some level of protection-you can click through to them in the article. As a public health researcher, we try to provide recommendations based on the evidence. Typically, we look at multiple studies over time to determine what is effective, but as Ed states:
“The coronavirus pandemic has moved so quickly that years of social change and academic debate have been compressed into a matter of months. Academic squabbles are informing national policy. Long-standing guidelines are shifting. Within days, an experiment that’s done in a hospital room can affect how people feel about the very air around them, and what they choose to wear on their faces.”
So will I be wearing a mask if I go out? Yes! Especially because we have someone at home who is at higher risk for COVID-19 complications. HOWEVER, I will still be focused on staying at home, washing my hands, not touching my face, and keeping up with social distancing.
I am NOT at all an expert in face mask use or infectious disease. However, I have been fascinated by the discussion I have seen about mask use by officials, the media, and in my own social networks. And I have been following the changing guidelines. I am working on some research related to communication about face mask use that has been very interesting! Stay tuned….
Image capture from the CDC on 4/3/20.