The White House is now recommending that all Americans wear “non-medical cloth” face coverings in public, amending the previous policy of only sick people wearing them.
Donald Trump said the recommendation was voluntary and that he refused to lead by example and wear a mask himself.
“I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” he said, going on to suggest it was hard to envision such a thing in the Oval Office: “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”
The about-face on face masks represents a reversal in policy that was fought for by virus hardliners in the White House. But some of Trump’s medical people worried that by recommending mask-wearing, the social distancing that experts see as far more important would be relaxed.
In the end, it may have been the advice of some medical experts who think wearing a mask can cut the death rate from the virus by 10 percent.
Senior officials at the CDC told the White House this week that stronger guidelines were necessary to prevent the virus from spreading between asymptomatic people, according to people familiar with the internal discussions.
The agency sent memos to the White House outlining their recommended guidance this week, people familiar with the documents said. They made clear that cloth face coverings — not medical-grade masks — were being recommended.
The White House is urging people not to buy the medical-grade masks and leave them for healthcare providers. Otherwise, the hesitancy by the White House in recommending everyone use them may have something to do with the fact that they don’t do much good.
Wearing a face mask is certainly not an iron-clad guarantee that you won’t get sick – viruses can also transmit through the eyes and tiny viral particles, known as aerosols, can penetrate masks. However, masks are effective at capturing droplets, which is a main transmission route of coronavirus, and some studies have estimated a roughly fivefold protection versus no barrier alone (although others have found lower levels of effectiveness).
Indeed, the argument that a mask might give some people a false sense of security and loosen social distancing rules rings true when you consider that a non-medical mask wouldn’t make a huge difference in transmission rates of the disease.
A lot of people are going to ignore the “non-medical” mask directive and buy up precious surgical masks that really do prevent the vast majority of wearers from becoming infected. But most people are not going to be exposed to sick people the way that healthcare workers are, except those caring for an infected loved one. Best advice: Think before you buy.
The evolving White House policy on the pandemic has led to charges that there’s no “national strategy.” And thank god for that. Most pundits see it as a failing of Trump that governors and mayors appear to be in charge. Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The mayor of Minot, N.D., may not immediately call for business closures when there are only 173 cases in the whole state. Governor Cuomo has an entirely different set of problems to deal with because of the severity of the pandemic in his state.
Are people saying that what’s good for New York is good for North Dakota? That’s a ludicrous position to take and ignores the reality on the ground. North Dakota may very well get around to closing down and issuing a stay-at-home order. But it doesn’t make sense to do it now. More importantly, they will decide when to shut down and not Washington.
The media and Trump opponents are panicking — have been panicking — about the pandemic since the start. It has led them to make all sorts of idiotic, panicky recommendations, like the government taking over businesses and declaring martial law. Trump’s policies have not been pro-active and the message has been muddled at times, even contradictory. But he’s basically going in the right direction while his opponents are flailing about wildly.