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We should all be wearing masks, China CDC director says

Published Mar 30th, 2020 7:41AM EDT
Coronavirus Masks
Image: Ajay Aggarwal/Hindustan Times/Shutterstock

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  • The general director of the Chinse CDC said in an interview that the biggest mistake Europe and US are making when dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic concerns masks. Everyone should be wearing masks in public, the official said.
  • Masks, and other personal protective equipment required for treating COVID-19 patients, are in critical supply in the US and other countries dealing with local outbreaks.
  • The US CDC has reiterated that nothing has changed when it comes to its masks advisory. Only those people showing COVID-19 symptoms should wear masks in public.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The novel coronavirus pandemic managed to catch the world by surprise despite what happened with China. Rather than increasing the production of critical personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants, testing kits, and ventilators, many western governments went for a wait-and-see approach. Things escalated quickly in Italy, which proved to everyone else how serious COVID-19 is, and other countries followed. News from various countries ravaged by the virus proved that many governments lacked the resources to put up a fight, with many of them scrambling to purchase or manufacture some of the critical products mentioned above. The situation is especially troubling in some hospitals, where doctors do not have enough PPE for use with COVID-19 patients. Some of them have even started reconsidering resuscitation procedures in critical COVID-19 cases that might require CPR because of the PPE costs associated with them. So, if doctors and nurses can’t spare equipment, it’s up to everyone else to help by not hoarding these products. And that can explain why the CDC currently advises people to only wear masks out in the open if they suspect they’re infected, to limit the spread of the virus. However, the director-general of China’s CDC says the contrary. According to him, it’s a “big mistake” not to wear masks in public.

Before we get into any of it, we’ll remind you that masks and other PPE should go to the ones who need it most, the healthcare workers in the front lines, who have to be healthy to treat everyone else. You should avoid the impulse of buying as many masks as possible, thinking this alone will help you avoid the infection. Instead, avoiding public places for as long as possible, washing your hands often, and avoiding your face will give you a much better chance of not getting the new COVID-19 disease.

Getting back to George Gao, the Chinese CDC general-director who coordinated the coronavirus response in China, talked to ScienceMag about the pandemic. While discussing the disease, the Chinese official said that the US and Europe are making a big mistake when it comes to wearing masks:

The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. 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.

The reasoning here is that masks will prevent people from spitting out saliva while talking to others, and this could reduce the chances of those virus-carrying droplets to reach others. That’s an added benefit on top of blocking coughs and sneezes.

Again, the world isn’t at a point where it can afford to give everyone a disposable mask every time that person goes outside. Yes, you need to throw most of them in the trash when you’re done with them. Only a particular type of mask can be disinfected, and it’s going to be masks used by healthcare professionals that will get that treatment.

The US CDC doesn’t recommend the use of masks in public unless you’re showing COVID-19 symptoms. And you can’t wear them if you don’t have them, or can’t buy them.

Dr. Matt McCarthy took to Twitter over the weekend to say that the CDC will change its stance on masks in about 10 days without providing other details. He’s an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell and a staff physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital per Gizmodo. His tweet went viral, prompting the CDC to reiterate its stance on masks and make it clear that it had not updated its guidance.

McCarthy’s tweet was not removed, nor has he updated it.

Making matters worse when it comes to masks, President Trump implied during Sunday’s coronavirus press conference that someone might be stealing masks from hospitals by the tens of thousands when asked him to address the equipment shortage. Per The Washington Post, Trump said that current demand wasn’t commensurate with typical needs and that masks were “going out the back door:”

It’s a New York hospital, very — it’s packed all the time. How do you go from 10 to 20 [thousand masks per week] to 300,000? Ten [thousand] to 20,000 masks, to 300,000 — even though this is different? Something is going on, and you ought to look into it as reporters. Are they going out the back door?

These aren’t ordinary times, however, and everyone attending to COVID-19 patients in a hospital should be wearing masks at all times. Even COVID-19 patients may have to wear them. Again, here are the CDC’s current guidelines:

If you are sick: You should wear a facemask, if available, when you are around other people (including before you enter a healthcare provider’s office).
If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then as their caregiver, you should wear a facemask when in the same room with them. Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.

With over 142,000 infections, America had the highest number of COVID-19 patients in the world at the time of this writing, nearly 50,000 more than Italy. Overall, 734,000 people caught the novel coronavirus, and approximately 35,000 died. These figures will only worsen in the coming days, as we’re still waiting to see the results of the various social distancing measures set in place around the world.

What’s clear is that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, and the longer it stays, the more masks will be required in hospitals. And maybe all of us will have to wear them when in public soon enough.

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.