Initially, at the start of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, the Centers for Disease Control advised Americans that they did not need to wear face masks unless they were medical professionals or had contracted the virus. Officials especially emphasized that there was no need to buy N95 or medical masks, as that could cause an issue with shortages for medical professionals.
Now, over two months after the first reported case of coronavirus in the United States, President Trump announced on Friday that the CDC is urging all Americans to wear a mask when they leave their homes. “Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public” because “you could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick,” the agency’s website states.
Coronavirus can spread through talking and breathing
This news regarding recommendations on masks comes after a panel informed the White House on Wednesday night that research shows coronavirus can be spread through talking or even breathing, disclaiming previous beliefs that the virus was primarily spread by sneezes or coughs.
Dr. Harvey Fineberg, chairman of a committee with the National Academy of Sciences, wrote a letter about this topic in response to a query from Kelvin Droegemeier with the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House.
“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” read the letter. “This letter responds to your question concerning the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread by conversation, in addition to sneeze/cough-induced droplets,” it continues.”
Fineberg explained that available research supports the possibility that coronavirus is able to be spread “via bioaerosols generated directly by patients’ exhalation.”
So far, the CDC has explained that the virus is spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes when people are within six feet of one another. While this is true, research also shows that aerosolized droplets produced by talking or breathing can also spread the virus from person to person. New research shows that six feet might not even be enough to keep you safe.
According to Fineberg, the length of time coronavirus lingers in the air depends on different factors, including how much of the virus an infected individual puts out when breathing or talking as well as the amount of circulation in the air.
“If you generate an aerosol of the virus with no circulation in a room, it’s conceivable that if you walk through later, you could inhale the virus,” Fineberg said. “But if you’re outside, the breeze will likely disperse it.”
Should you wear a mask?
According to the CDC, yes, anyone that is going out in public for groceries or whatever reason should wear some sort of face covering, excluding “young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”
The agency urges people not to use face masks that are meant for medical workers, as that could cause a shortage for hospitals around the country. If you do not have any disposable masks, here is how you can make a DIY face mask at home.
While it is not a mandatory action, officials and experts recommend that people wear masks or other face coverings when they go out in public. Fineberg told CNN that he will definitely be wearing a mask to go to the grocery store.
“I’m not going to wear a surgical mask, because clinicians need those,” Fineberg said. “But I have a nice western-style bandana I might wear. Or I have a balaclava. I have some pretty nice options.”
You still need to practice social distancing
A mask is by no means a replacement for social distancing. At the briefing on Thursday, Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, emphasized that those who decide to wear masks should not gain a false sense of security, as masks are no substitute for social distancing and frequent hand washing.