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WASHINGTON — The White House is expected to announce a new policy, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that would urge Americans to wear cloth masks in an effort to prevent coronavirus spread, according to a federal official familiar with the policy.

In a draft document obtained by STAT, the CDC recommended that the public use homemade face coverings when in public, reserving higher-grade protective equipment like N95 masks for hospitals and health care workers, who have faced severe shortages in personal protective equipment as the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated through the United States.

Such face coverings, according to the draft guidance, would not be intended to protect the wearer, but rather prevent the wearer from unknowingly spreading the disease when in public. Individuals should wear face coverings in public settings like grocery stores, the guidance said. Children under the age of 2 and people experiencing trouble breathing would be excluded from the mask guidelines.

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The guidance would serve as an attempt to prevent Americans from unknowingly spreading coronavirus before they experience symptoms. Evidence has shown that those infected with coronavirus are sometimes contagious two days before the onset of symptoms.

The official cautioned that the recommendations were not yet final, and that the White House could still alter its final recommendation.

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A White House spokeswoman cautioned in an email to STAT that the Trump administration’s guidance would apply only to Americans in areas in which the novel coronavirus is quickly spreading through communities, in contrast to the CDC draft guidance to recommend masks for all Americans.

“I think they’re going to be coming out with the regulations on that,” President Trump said at a White House press briefing on Thursday, adding that the advisory would not be mandatory.

“If people wanted to wear them, they can,” Trump said. “If people wanted to use scarves, which they have, many people have them, they can. In many cases the scarf is better, it’s thicker.”

Vice President Mike Pence said the guidance would be issued in the coming days. He and Trump did not elaborate — Trump, at one point, told reporters “We’ll see what that recommendation is.”

Deborah Birx, the physician and diplomat helping to lead the administration’s coronavirus response, expressed concern that Americans might take a mask advisory to mean they could go about business as normal thanks to the mask’s protection. If and when an advisory is issued, Birx said, it would stress that it was a precaution to be taken in addition to — not instead of — existing social distancing and handwashing guidelines.

In the draft guidance, the CDC acknowledged that wearing face masks in public is a highly unusual behavior in the United States, even though the tactic has long been employed as a personal hygiene measure in countries that have successfully slowed their coronavirus outbreaks, like Japan and South Korea.

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A recent article published in the Lancet suggested that, while there is limited evidence for the effectiveness of widespread mask use, the tactic nonetheless could prove helpful in preventing transmission from people infected but not yet displaying symptoms. The analysis, however, referred largely to higher-grade equipment like N95 respirator masks, not homemade facial coverings fashioned from shirts or dish towels.

Other health experts have recommended a similar directive, citing data showing that asymptomatic spread could be a major driver of new Covid-19 cases.

World Health Organization officials on Wednesday said evidence was mixed regarding use of masks among the general public, and stressed that public health officials should remain focused on providing masks to doctors, nurses and other health care workers treating coronavirus patients.

“There’s an ongoing debate about the use of masks at the community level,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a press conference on Wednesday. “WHO recommends the use of medical masks for people who are sick and those caring for them.”

  • Hi,
    There was several sound reviews of the literature among the posts. It may be preferable to believe then.

  • I’m immune compromised due to kidney transplant. If COVID19 is not going completely away, when will I ever be safe in my community? Or To travel? It’s very frightening. I hope u can get this question out there

  • Price gouging on prescriptions during the pandemic or otherwise should be reported to the state Attorney General’s office. Ditto for masks, etc.

  • Congressman Eliot Engel has written a note to Vice President Pence to stop the EXPORT of medical equipment, masks, gowns, etc. to other countries during this pandemic. There are laws in place he mentions that allows this to happen. Why is America waiting so long to address the shortage of supplies which medical personnel desperately need for their protection – so they are less likely to contract COVID-19 (SARS CoV-2). Thank you, Congressman Engel ! Please call the White House to ask for Vice President Pence’s office 1-202-225-3121 asking to stop exporting these items.

  • Take Austria as an example:

    When Austrians enter a supermarket or grocery store they are handed a free mask by an employee at the entrance.

    Why does this not happen here? Because our President has been playing done the severity of this crisis from the beginning, and now commercial masks are hard to get – and the few you find are tainted often by extreme price increases.

    • Because these cheap masks cannot filter out the 118 nanometer virion particles and these cheap masks give a false sense of security. The best way to prevent getting infected is staying at home and if out in a public place maintain a 5 meter distance from other humans who may be infected. Make sure hands are washed, then wash face, eyes, ears and inside nose. Make sure you use alcohol based mouthwash or high salt mouth wash to rinse mouth for at least 2 minutes. If you have to wear a mask, then go to MSA, Scott or others and buy a full face respirator with filter cartridges rated N99.

  • it is a very very very big lesson to the whole world that dont put all the eggs into one basket especially deal with China the extreme Communism. now is the time withraw high technology ,medical ptoduct from China and back to soil home

  • Some of our essential employees-ex. pharmacy workers-seem to be taking advantage of customers during the Corina Virus Situation. Despite having the necessary Prior Authorization from the Doctor and Verification Letters from the Health Insurance Company it took me over two-2-months to get three-3-prescriptions processed which had been processed without-ANY PROBLEM PREVIOUSLY. Then the pharmacy tried to charge me-FULL PRICE FOR TWO-2-OF THE PRESCRIPTIONS. The only way that I got the problem resolved was by having the pharmacist review it; her conclusion was that I would only pay $87-while the other way I would have been charged over $1,400. That unjustified difference of $1,317 is only one of the many errors which are taking place. Its time to force these pharmacies and their personnel to realize that they are-ACCOUNTABLE. Linda Ennis

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