The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, April 03, 2020 1:00 am

Recommendation on masks expected soon

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The recommendations, still being finalized Thursday, were expected to apply to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force's discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home – for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.

President Donald Trump, who was tested again for the coronavirus Thursday using a new rapid test, indicated he would support such a recommendation. “If people wanted to wear them, they can,” he said.

“It's not a bad idea, at least for a period of time,” Trump had said earlier in the week.

The White House said Trump's latest test returned a negative result in 15 minutes, and said Trump was “healthy and without symptoms.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force's coordinator, told reporters the White House was concerned that the mask guidance would lead to a “false sense of security” for Americans. She said new data show that the administration's social-distancing guidelines were not being followed to the extent necessary to keep virus-related deaths to a minimum.

Worldwide the number of confirmed infections hit another gloomy milestone — 1 million, with more than 50,000 deaths, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. But the true numbers are believed to be much higher because of testing shortages, many mild cases that have gone unreported and suspicions that some countries are covering up the extent of their outbreaks.

The emerging guidance on masks appeared to be more limited than a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention draft of the guidance, which suggested the recommendation apply to nearly all Americans, all over the country, according to a federal official who has seen the draft but was not authorized to discuss it.

Officials were expected to limit its geographic scope to just those areas where the virus was spreading rapidly, the official said. The formal announcement is expected as soon as today.

Under the previous guidance, only the sick or those at high risk of complications from the respiratory illness were advised to wear masks. The new proposal was driven by research showing that some infections are being spread by people who seem to be healthy.

On Wednesday, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, urged his city's 4 million residents to wear masks when they're in public. On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed suit in his city.

In response to recent studies, the CDC on Wednesday changed how it was defining the risk of infection for Americans. It essentially says anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.

The virus spreads mostly through droplets from coughs or sneezes, though experts stress that the germ is still not fully understood.

U.S. officials have been telling people to stay at home as much as possible, and keep at least 6 feet away from others when they do go out. Other advice includes frequent hand washing and not touching your face. But until now, federal officials have stopped short of telling people to cover their faces out in public.

Scientists can't rule out that infected people exhale COVID-19 virus particles, rather than just when coughing or sneezing, but there isn't enough evidence to show whether that can cause infection, according to a committee convened by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to advise the White House.

The question has to do with whether the new coronavirus spreads mostly by droplets that don't linger for long in the air, or also by tinier “aerosolized” particles.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has repeatedly admonished Americans not to wear face masks, saying they don't prevent the people who wear them from catching the virus. He and other officials have stressed that surgical face masks and other protective medical equipment have been in short supply and must be prioritized for people such as health care workers.

The World Health Organization on Monday reiterated its advice that the general population doesn't need to wear masks unless they're sick. Since the epidemic began in China, the WHO has said masks are for the sick and people caring for them.

Many people have taken it upon themselves to make their own masks, but one North Carolina health system found that such DIY products vary in how well they work. Wake Forest Baptist Health doctors and scientists tested 13 different designs made by community volunteers. They found that some were better at filtering than off-the-shelf surgical masks but others were barely better than wearing no mask at all.


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