The CDC is said to be considering asking people to cover their face in public — but would reserve masks for medical workers

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A doctor with an N95 medical respiratory mask.

Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may soon advise Americans to cover their faces to try to hamper the coronavirus' spread — but would reserve hospital masks for medical workers.

As of Tuesday morning, the CDC's main COVID-19 web page recommended that only people with symptoms or those caring for them should cover their face.

But that may soon change, according to The Washington Post, which cited two federal officials Monday night as saying the CDC was debating whether to formally encourage all people to cover their face when out in public.

If it adopts the change, it would tell people to fashion their own face covers with cloth to free up surgical masks and N95 masks for medics and health workers, The Post reported, citing one of the officials.

Health workers across the US — and in many countries — have reported severe shortages of personal protective equipment, with reports indicating some nurses in New York City have resorted to using plastic garbage bags in place of hospital gowns.


A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York City.

Reuters / Lucas Jackson

Numerous doctors have urged the public to wear masks for some time, contrary to CDC guidelines.

Not all medical professionals have been in agreement, however.

On February 29, the US surgeon general — who works for the Department of Health and Human Services, not the CDC — said people should not wear hospital masks because they simply don't work outside a hospital setting, where they (ideally) are replaced frequently and where healthcare workers are trained how to use them effectively.

"Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!" Jerome Adams tweeted. "They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus."

The CDC commented on the use of masks at least as far back as January 30, in the early stages of the US's coronavirus outbreak.

"We don't routinely recommend the use of face masks by the public to prevent respiratory illness," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC, said at the time. "And we certainly are not recommending that at this time for this new virus."

The Post noted that some worried that people might use masks as an excuse to ease up on social distancing in public, a crucial component of the CDC's coronavirus guidelines along with handwashing and staying at home.


A worker at the entrance to the Brooklyn Hospital Center emergency room on March 16.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

But, as the number of cases continued to rise daily across the US, more drastic measures have been put in place to slow the virus, including lockdowns and curfews.

As of Monday night, the US had the most coronavirus infections in the world, registering 164,359 cases and more than 3,170 deaths.

Top Chinese scientist believes the US and Europe's 'big mistake' is not making people wear masks

China, where the outbreak started late last year, has stopped reporting large number of new cases but is more than a month ahead of the US in its coronavirus cycle. (The UK government reportedly believes that China is grossly underreporting the number of cases.)


A sanitation worker near a branch of ICBC in Wuhan, China, where the lockdown is slowly easing.

Reuters

George Gao, the director-general of China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention, was asked by Science magazine in an article published Friday which mistakes other countries were making in their response to the virus, and he pointed to guidance around masks.

"The big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren't wearing masks," Gao said. "This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact.

"Droplets play a very important role — you've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections.

"If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others."

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