The science shows face masks work both to protect the wearer and to protect others from coronavirus, and everyone needs to wear one when around other people in public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
Even cloth face masks help enough to be worthwhile, three top CDC officials said in a commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
While community use of face coverings has increased substantially, particularly in jurisdictions with mandatory orders, resistance continues," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, CDC's chief medical officer Dr. John Brooks and Deputy Director for Infectious Diseases Dr. Jay Butler said in a joint editorial.
There is "ample evidence" that people who have no symptoms and may not realize they are infected may be driving the ongoing surge in infections, they wrote.
Redfield has been increasingly vocal about his support for the use of face masks.
Setting an example
"I'm glad to see the President wear a mask this week, and the Vice President," Redfield said during a webinar with JAMA. , "Clearly, in their situation, they can easily justify they don't need to because of all the testing around them, and they know they're not infected."
But Redfield added: "We need for them to set the example."
Redfield said in another webinar that masks will be key to opening schools.
"We're not defenseless against this virus. We actually have face coverings and I do think the more confidence that the American public has - that face coverings are not a symbol, but they're actually a very important preventive intervention that can really block this virus," he said during a Buck Institute briefing.
"We are getting more and more data so I can be more and more aggressive in relating that."
The CDC also published details on Tuesday of a study that found two hairdressers in Springfield, Missouri who were infected with coronavirus did not infect any of 139 clients they worked with, probably because they wore face masks.
"Covering mouths and noses with filtering materials serves two purposes: personal protection against inhalation of harmful pathogens and particulates, and source control to prevent exposing others to infectious microbes that may be expelled during respiration," the three officials wrote.
Even home-made, cloth masks help. They can catch the particles that carry virus, the CDC said
"However, face covering is not needed all the time. It is probably safe for individuals and safe for others to drive alone or to walk or jog alone on an uncrowded route without a face covering," they advised.
"But when individuals choose to go out or must be close to others in public, a cloth face covering can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 from asymptomatic individuals or others."
Health experts need to spread the message, the CDC said. "Innovation is needed to extend their physical comfort and ease of use," they added. But good recommendations can "help persons feel confident in their ability to obtain and wear cloth face coverings consistently and correctly."
"At this critical juncture when COVID-19 is resurging, broad adoption of cloth face coverings is a civic duty, a small sacrifice reliant on a highly effective low-tech solution that can help turn the tide favorably in national and global efforts against COVID-19."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said an early misstep in communication hurt the U.S. public's acceptance of masks.
At the beginning of the pandemic, health officials in the country were trying to make sure health care workers had enough personal protective equipment, including masks, as hospitals filled with Covid-19 patients.
"What got, I think, a little bit misrepresented in that message was not that it was just we wanted to preserve them, but they don't really work that well anyway," Fauci said in an interview with CNN on the Crooked Media podcast "America Dissected."
"That was the mistake, because in fact there's no doubt that wearing a mask is better than not having a mask for the general public."