The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been consistent with guidelines regarding masks amid national efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. But questions have emerged as to whether those guidelines about to change.
A CDC official who spoke to the Washington Post under the condition of anonymity confirmed to the paper that the agency is discussing potential changes to mask recommendations.
The current guidelines state that surgical masks and N95 respirators are not needed outside of healthcare settings, and there will be no change of that as hospitals and healthcare centers are quickly running out of personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, the Post reported that the new guidelines may recommend the public wear a “do-it-yourself cloth covering.”
The CDC told USA TODAY Tuesday that it “does not have guidance scheduled to come out on this topic” but that the current guidelines dictate individuals should wear face masks when they’re sick or caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19.
The CDC also recommends that healthcare providers to use “homemade masks” as a last resort to care for COVID-19 patients in the event that N95 respirators or surgical masks are not available.
“However, cautions should be exercised when considering this option,” the CDC warns on its website.
Dr. Frank Esper, pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, said that it’s totally possible for the CDC to change their mask guidelines in the future as new information develops and healthcare providers run out of PPE.
However, he doesn’t think that they would recommend the general public to wear masks at all times, especially homemade masks.
“If you have no masks available, wearing something like a cloth mask may be of benefit, but you can’t guarantee that you would be as safe as you would as a standardized mask,” he said. “Those things have to be tested, quality controlled.”
Esper also said the “extra protection” may be moot if people aren’t consistently changing out their masks or laundering them after every interaction. Another concern is that individuals may be given a false sense of security by masks and more lax about social distancing measures and good hygiene.
“Masks by themselves are not the one simple answer to this problem. This is going to be a multi pronged approach to eventually slow this pandemic,” he said.
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The World Health Organization recommends wearing a mask only when sick or when taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19.
“There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any particular benefit,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told reporters in a news conference Monday.
“In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly or taking it off and all the other risks that are otherwise associated with that.”
However, Austrian officials announced Monday that shoppers will be required to wear basic face masks in supermarkets, according to Reuters and the South China Morning Post. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said these masks will be provided at the front before entering supermarkets.
The WHO said they weren’t “specifically aware of that measure in Austria.”
Esper doesn’t rule out other future strategies as the pandemic develops. This could include recommendations that target specific cities or professions.
“We’re in a crisis that generates innovation and there are a lot of innovative ideas right now as we try to work through this infection,” he said.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.