Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for Flow Alkaline Water
Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Hudson garnered criticism early in the coronavirus pandemic for sporting surgical masks, N95 respirators, and other face coverings.
Medical professionals on the front lines have struggled to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) like N95 respirators, putting them in harm's way.
But as the novel coronavirus spread across the globe, the Centers for Disease Control shifted its stance on face coverings to instead urge all people in the US to wear masks in public spaces.
Though masks don't provide full protection, health officials urge the public to wear them to prevent virus spread.
Video: How to make and wear effective face masks
Face coverings have become a symbol of the coronavirus pandemic. While they aren't perfect, even DIY cloth masks offer a layer of protection against virus spread.
"It's like a civic duty," Elaine Shuo Feng, an Oxford epidemiologist and statistician, previously told Business Insider. "People wear the mask to protect themselves and also protect others."
But this stance wasn't always the case.
In February, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, and Bella Hadid were all spotted wearing surgical masks, N95 respirators, and other face coverings. At the time, they were criticized for contributing to a shortage of masks that many medical professionals are continuing to face.
But while health officials still discourage the public from buying N95 masks, the celebrities had the right idea about cloth masks and face coverings.
Here is how advice about face masks has shifted during the pandemic.
At first, public health officials advised only medical professionals and people with the virus to wear face coverings
Crystal Cox/Business Insider
In the early months of 2020, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said it "does not currently recommend the use of face masks for the general public."
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams even tweeted "Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS!" in late February.
Cloth masks, which do not contribute to the shortage of necessary medical supplies, were not yet recommended by any health agency to help prevent the virus.
Masks also aren't proven to completely stop the spread of the virus. Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong's School of Public Health, previously told Business Insider.
The mixed messaging was confusing, and led to celebrities like Selena Gomez and Paltrow being criticized.
Officials held off on recommending masks for months
In early April, the CDC officially changed its recommendation on masks, advising people in the US to wear face coverings in public spaces. Days later, the World Health Organization's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned the public that masks alone cannot stop the pandemic.
"There is no black or white answer and no silver bullet," Tedros said.
While the WHO recommends citizens follow their countries' individual guidelines for mask usage, the organization emphasizes that N95 respirators need to be saved for medical professionals since they're still in low supply.
We now know that in the early days of virus spread in the US, the CDC was trying to prevent a massive rush of civilians from buying N95 respirators and surgical masks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US government's foremost infectious-diseases expert, told The Street in June that officials initially held off on recommending the public to wear masks out of a fear that medical professionals would be unable to get them.
"The public-health community — and many people were saying this — were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N95 masks and the surgical masks, were in very short supply," Fauci said.
Though cloth masks aren't perfect, there is research showing they help minimize virus spread, which is better than taking no preventative measures at all.
Some of the celebrities who sported face coverings did contribute to the PPE shortage. But it's now clear that masks are, in fact, a crucial tool for battling the pandemic.
Read the original article on Business Insider