New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Thursday night that “it couldn’t hurt from a public-health point of view” to wear homemade face masks to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Asked by Cooper whether he would follow New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s suggestion on face covers such as bandanas, Cuomo said, “It could help if someone has the virus.”
‘Unless the fabric has a certain density, the virus will get through. It couldn’t hurt unless it gives the person a false sense of security.’
“Unless the fabric has a certain density, the virus will get through,” Cuomo told CNN T, +2.53%. “It couldn’t hurt unless it gives the person a false sense of security.” Medical-grade N95 surgical mask masks are in short supply and, according to this study, filter viruses larger than 0.1 micrometers (a micrometer, um, is one millionth of a meter). The coronavirus is 0.125 micrometer.
At the White House daily press briefing on Thursday evening, President Donald Trump was also asked if the general public should now be wearing non-medical face masks, and he too suggested there may be a change of direction on masks. “I don’t think they’ll be mandatory because some people don’t want to do that,” Trump said, adding, “In many ways, a scarf is better. It’s thicker.”
Also Thursday, Mayor de Blasio said all New Yorkers should wear cloth masks, a dramatic U-turn that looks like the first major break with public policy on face coverings. “We’re advising New Yorkers to wear a face covering when you go outside and will be near other people. Let’s be clear, this is a face covering. It could be a scarf, it could be a bandana, something you create yourself.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that the public wear masks; de Blasio, the CDC and Cuomo have all cautioned against wearing medical-grade N95 masks as they are in short supply in hospitals among health-care workers who are putting their lives at risk. de Blasio said face masks or covers do “not need to be a professional surgical mask.”
On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the White House Coronavirus Task Force is giving “serious consideration” to broadening the existing guidance on face masks or face covers, but he said first priority must be given to health-care workers who are currently experiencing a shortage of masks.
“The thing that has inhibited that a bit is to make sure that we don’t take away the supply of masks from the health-care workers who need them,” he said. “But when we get in a situation when we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about broadening this recommendation of using masks. We’re not there yet, but we’re close.”
“If, in fact, a person who may or may not be infected wants to prevent infecting someone else, one of the best ways to do that is with a mask,” Fauci told CNN’s Jim Acosta. “So perhaps that’s the way to go and again, I say Jim, that’s under very active consideration. As I say, we’ll be discussing it today, this afternoon, at the task force meeting.”
Telling the public to wear masks would be a U-turn for U.S. public health officials. In the early days of the coronavirus in the U.S., the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Surgeon General all asked the public not to wear face masks unless they were unwell or caring for someone who was sick. A debate over masks has become increasingly heated in recent days.
Several Asian countries, including South Korea and Taiwan, where wearing face masks is relatively common, appear to have had more success “flattening the curve” more effectively than in countries like the U.S., Spain and Italy. But the World Health Organization and the CDC still say mask usage should be limited to people who have COVID-19 or those who work in hospitals.