EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s been a topic of confusion and concern for people across the country since the coronavirus pandemic began. They saw videos and photos of people in other countries wearing face masks and wondered if they, too, should be wearing them.
At first, the nation’s top health officials advised the masks were not necessary, but now those guidelines seem to be shifting a bit.
We combed through guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and recent interviews with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top doctor on coronavirus.
Here’s the short answer: Masks are most effective when worn by people who are sick. They can prevent the virus from spreading to otherwise healthy people out in public. But, here’s what complicates matters.
According to Dr. Fauci, up to about a quarter of people with coronavirus can be asymptomatic, meaning they could be spreading the virus to others without feeling ill themselves. That means their germs could also be contained if they, too, wore masks. With that being said, anyone could really be asymptomatic. Therefore, the public COULD benefit from everyone wearing masks.
“If those individuals could possibly be spreading infection, and not even knowing it, a potentially good way of preventing that, it’s not 100 percent for sure, we know from studies that masks aren’t 100 percent, but we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good in doing something, that you could have an impact in preventing transmission,” Dr. Fauci told Norah O’Donnell, anchor of CBS Evening News.
The problem: There aren’t enough face masks for everyone. The priority is to give the supply to healthcare workers to prevent them from potentially spreading the virus to otherwise healthy or otherwise ill patients.We know they’re helping people with coronavirus daily on the frontlines.
In a news update on Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti guided all residents to start wearing face masks in public, but NOT N95s or surgical masks. Instead, he said they should wear homemade cloth masks or even scarves or bandannas.
According to the CDC guidelines, a healthy person does not need to wear a mask in public, but those who are sick or who are caring for a vulnerable person, should wear masks.
World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebrey said they’re still gathering evidence and evaluating the use of masks more broadly at the community level to contain coronavirus. Right now, their recommendation is that the masks are only truly effective when combined with another layer of protection for people who are sick or their caretakers.