President Donald Trump said Thursday his organization will soon release nationwide suggestions on wearing face masks after initially telling Americans they weren't necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
But a top health adviser on his team strongly cautioned that masks should not soothe Americans into a false sense of security that would lead them to abandon social distancing rules. The White House has urged to slow the spread of the coronavirus as the death toll in the United States rises.
Speaking at a White House team preparation, Trump said the new direction would avoid requiring all Americans to wear face masks.
Trump said, "I don't think they'll be mandatory because some people don't want to do that," including that Americans who would like to wear face masks can decide for themselves.
Trump repeated his statement that fabric masks like scarves would be preferential, both because they avoid the use of medical-grade masks needed in hospitals and because of their thickness.
"In many ways, a scarf is better. It's thicker," Trump said.
Despite the fact that he was addressing what residents ought to do, Trump's claim that scarves can work better than masks is not supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guide to health care workers. While scarves may offer some protection, the CDC's recommendation portrays scarves as a possible last resort if masks are not available.
When masks are no longer available, the CDC says, workers might use homemade masks for the care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. The guidance also states that caution should be exercised when considering this option and that face shields should be used in addition to these homemade masks.
Trump did not offer timing on the new suggestions. However, people acquainted with the issue said the organization was working Thursday to finish the guidance, which would advise Americans to use a face mask when leaving their homes.
Vice President Mike Pence said the task force was still weighing recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and would issue suggestions in the next several days.
CNN reported on Wednesday that most individuals of the task force have come to agree that Americans should start wearing face masks in public and could give formal guidance on the issue soon.
Some members of the task force including Dr. Deborah Birx have forewarned in meetings against recommending Americans wear masks because of a fear it could cease them into a false sense of assurance and prevent them from socially distancing. But new insights into the asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus have prompted a reconsideration of the guidance.
Birx said at the briefing on Thursday White House officials were still debating new recommendations.
"It is not a substitute for the presidential guidelines on social distancing that have already gone out, don't get a false sense of security that that mask is protecting you exclusively from getting infected. This worries us, that's why the debate is continuing about the mask," she added.
Among the issues talked about by the task force and the CDC is the best approach to teach Americans to wear masks. Also part of their discussion is how to prevent a rush on medical-grade equipment, such as N95 respirators, which is still in short supply for hospitals.
There have also been conversations of the cultural shift that prescribing masks would represent since Americans are not typical in wearing masks in public, unlike citizens of some Asian countries.
Apart from that, there has been some thought of whether or not to call the prescribed face masks. Some have recommended alluding to them simply as face covers or courtesy masks to recognize them from the medical masks needed by experts.
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