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CDC might ask the general public to start using coronavirus face masks

Published Mar 31st, 2020 10:20AM EDT
Coronavirus USA
Image: Chiang Ying-ying/AP/Shutterstock
  • The CDC is reportedly considering changing its coronavirus guidelines to recommend the use of masks by the general public.
  • There’s nothing definitive yet, but the new policy would advise the public to go for do-it-yourself solutions instead of the surgical and N95 masks that are so desperately needed in the healthcare sector.
  • Some hospitals are running short on personal protective equipment (PPE), and a run on masks should be avoided.
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The CDC reiterated its guidelines concerning the use of face masks a few days ago in response to rumors that said those policies would change. The agency advises only those people who think they’re infected to wear protective masks to prevent infecting others if they really need to leave the house. Otherwise, only those who come in contact with COVID-19 patients should have masks, like healthcare workers and first responders. CDC’s guidelines are likely meant to prevent a run on masks from the panicked population, at a time where some hospitals lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). But the CDC might soon change its tune and tell people to wear masks when out in the open.

Some experts, like the director-general of China CDC, say that not wearing masks is the biggest mistake the US and Europe are making while trying to reduce the spread of the novel virus. Separately, researchers from Japan proved the existence of so-called micro-droplets, tiny saliva drops that float in the air after a cough or a sneeze, or even during a regular conversation. Invisible to the naked eye, these particles can float around in indoor spaces with poor ventilation. Researchers have yet to explain how many virus-infused micro-droplets one would have to inhale to contract COVID-19, but the use of masks could reduce the risk further. If there’s a shortage of masks, it makes sense not to hoard them. It’s healthcare professionals and first responders who should have enough supply to keep treating COVID-19 patients.

CDC guidance remains under development, a federal official told The Washington Post. The internal discussion hasn’t been finalized, but the new guidelines would make it clear that the public should not use medical masks for protection. Instead of surgical and N95 masks, people should resort to makeshift masks and do-it-yourself coverings that would protect the nose and mouth.

Masks aren’t foolproof solutions, whether they’re medical-grade or do-it-yourself ones. You still need to practice good hygiene and keep your hands away from your face. Also, social distancing is the best way to limit the spread of the disease. Just because you have a mask doesn’t mean you can return to the life you had before. But even a makeshift mask can reduce the risk of spreading the disease, or coming in contact with any sort of droplets, especially when you’re going to stores for food or other essentials.

As of right now, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that only the sick and their caretakers should be medical wearing masks.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.