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Masks could be additional deterrent to virus

The use of facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic has been revived as a matter of general concern in the U.S., not only because there is a great need for them among health workers, but because of a growing opinion that everyone should be wearing them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it “does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.”

The World Health Organization still maintains that position, reiterating last week that the general population doesn’t need to wear masks unless they’re sick, coughing or sneezing or are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection.

But President Trump said at a White House briefing Thursday his administration was “coming out with regulations” on the issue of the public wearing masks. He stressed, however, that it would be entirely voluntary. “If people want to wear them, they can,” he said.

The New York Times reported Thursday that an anonymous federal official said the CDC has been preparing to recommend that everyone wear face coverings in public settings, like pharmacies and grocery stores.

Earlier in the week, according to the Times, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a radio interview new data shows high rates of transmission from people who are infected but show no symptoms. He said his agency was re-reviewing the guidance on mask wearing “to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected.”

A new draft by the CDC on guidance toward the use of masks, the Times reported, suggests the recommendation apply to nearly all Americans, all over the country, according to the federal official who has seen the draft but was not authorized to discuss it. The new proposal was driven by research showing that some infections are being spread by people who seem to be healthy.

Most public health officials, though, have continued to stress that N95 masks and surgical masks should be saved for front-line doctors and nurses.

So, should you, or shouldn’t you wear a mask in public?

In some other countries, such as South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, wearing masks has become a common practice, the Chicago Tribune reports. Public health officials in those nations, according to the Tribune, say widespread mask use has “flattened the curve” of their outbreaks.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garecetti urged his city’s residents to wear masks in public. And on Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did the same.

“I think if everyone used masks, it would decrease the amount of transmission of the virus,” said Dr. Rahul Khare, CEO of the Innovative Express Care immediate care facility in Chicago. “By putting a face mask over your nose and mouth, you’re decreasing the amount of the virus particles and therefore decreasing transmission rates.”

Khare told the Chicago Tribune he wants government officials to switch gears and advise people to wear masks if they must leave their homes.

But Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the coronavirus response for the White House task force, emphasized that social distancing, not masks, was still the most important step Americans could take. Birx said masks aren’t enough and could lead to a “false sense of security” for Americans.

We agree that social distancing and other guidelines designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are critical steps for every American. But we also think the general use of masks outside the home could be another valuable precaution.

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