The White House’s coronavirus response coordinator on Thursday cautioned that a looming advisory encouraging Americans to use masks or face coverings to help prevent spread of the virus should not lull people into a “false sense of security.”
Dr. Deborah Birx said during a daily briefing that officials are still reviewing data about the benefits of having individuals wear masks when they go outside, but that any final guidance should only be treated as an “additive” piece to existing social distancing guidelines.
“The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands,” she said. “And we don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they’re behind a mask. Because if they’re touching things—remember your eyes are not in the mask—so if you’re touching things and then touching your eyes you’re exposing yourself in the same way.”
“This worries us, and that’s why the debate is continuing about the mask,” she added. “We don’t want … to send a signal that we think a mask is equivalent.”
Vice President Pence confirmed moments later that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will issue an advisory in the coming days urging at least certain Americans to wear face coverings when they leave their homes.
The guidance marks a shift for the administration and is intended to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus from asymptomatic individuals in particular.
The Surgeon General in early March warned Americans to stop buying masks, insisting they were needed for health care workers and writing they are “NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.”
There are now more than 1 million officially confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with more than 236,000 of those in the U.S.