CDC considers general public use of face masks

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed in an interview with National Public Radio on Monday that the agency was reviewing its guidelines on who should wear facemasks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Currently, the CDC recommends reserving face masks for patients who have symptoms or are diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as for healthcare workers as part of standard personal protective equipment (PPE).

Data show high rates of transmission from people who are infected but show no symptoms, according to Robert Redfield, MD, director of the CDC, who said the guidance on face masks is being “critically re-reviewed to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected.”

The review stems from a request by the White House coronavirus task force, which has said it is leaning towards recommending it.

The CDC is concerned that such a recommendation could worsen existing shortages in medical grade N95 and other surgical masks for healthcare works who need them. However, the agency said it recognizes the potential benefit to more widespread mask usage.

Masks prevent infected droplets transmitting from the wearer’s nose or mouth. Both medical grade N95 masks and flat face masks are made of a special melt-blown fabric, which can stop finer infectious particles.

The current CDC guidelines state if you are sick, you should wear a face mask, if available, when you are around other people, including before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are caring for others, if the person who is sick is not able to wear a face mask—for example, because it causes trouble breathing— then as their caregiver, you should wear a face mask when in the same room with them. Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.

The CDC also states, “During a public health emergency, face masks may be reserved for health care workers. You may need to improvise a face mask using a scarf or bandana.”

Editor’s note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.