Top members of the White House coronavirus task force now say that face shields and goggles can be effective ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus — the latest shift in messaging from the federal government on the how to contain a pandemic that has now claimed more than 150,000 American lives.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said masks that cover the nose and mouth are meant to protect others from infection.
“The thing about the face shields — we think that that could protect the individuals and that it would decrease the ability for them to touch their eyes and spread [the] virus as well as those droplets coming towards them,” Dr. Birx said Thursday on “Fox & Friends.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this week that if people have goggles or eye shields, they should consider using them.
“You have mucosa in the nose, mucosa in the mouth, but you also have mucosa in the eye,” Dr. Fauci told ABC News. “Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces.”
The new medical advice came as news was breaking that former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain had become the latest high-profile victim of COVID-19. A supporter of President Trump, the 74-year-old onetime pizza chain executive contracted the virus shortly after attending Mr. Trump’s Tulsa political rally last month.
The coronavirus is believed to be spread primarily through droplets that people expel when sneezing, coughing or talking, though there is some evidence of airborne spread through particles that linger in the air for a longer time.
The coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, in December. It swiftly blanketed the globe, killing over 668,000 people and now re-emerging in many countries that had once been thought to have the virus under control.
Mr. Trump on Thursday said he, like the public, just heard about the goggles advice.
“I only heard of goggles for the first time about one hour ago. Now I’m hearing about goggles, so I don’t know,” he said during a stop at the American Red Cross national headquarters in D.C.
At the meeting, Dr. Birx said Tennessee is including a mask, face shield, gloves and hand sanitizers in special packs for teachers who go back into the classroom.
Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci and others in the federal government are pleading with ordinary Americans to at least wear a protective mask to help combat the spread of COVID-19 amid a resurgence of cases in the South and West and — most recently — parts of the Midwest.
Message from Trump country
But in the early stages of the pandemic, the Trump administration and top health officials were actively telling people not to wear masks, saying the supplies should be saved for frontline medical workers and there wasn’t necessarily evidence that they helped people avoid contracting the disease.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who urged the public in late February to “stop buying masks,” said Mr. Trump attracted positive attention in Miami for donning one recently.
“I was in Trump country, and they told me to deliver you a message, Mr. President. They told me to tell you you look badass in a face mask,” Dr. Adams told the president on Thursday.
Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the administration’s “testing czar,” said on Thursday that testing is important but it won’t control the national outbreak when there are 70,000 new documented cases per day.
“What will control the outbreak is the personal responsibility that we have been talking about for months,” Adm. Giroir told reporters on a conference call. “Avoid bars, avoid crowded indoor spaces, wear a mask. If you feel sick, stay at home. Protect the vulnerable. Wash your hands. That’s how we control the outbreak. Period. Full stop.”
Mr. Trump also pleaded with COVID-19 survivors Thursday to donate their blood plasma.
The “convalescent” plasma contains antibodies that can help patients fight off the virus. It is part of a trinity of promising treatments that also includes an antiviral drug, remdesivir, and a steroid, dexamethasone.
“If you’ve had the virus, if you donate it would be a terrific thing,” he said at the Red Cross. “You’ve gotten through it, and I guess that means you have something very special there.”
Mr. Trump wore a mask as he visited a donor, Marty Sarsfield. Mr. Sarsfield was hooked up in a basement room and a medical bag filled with his yellow plasma next to him.
“Strong. You’re very famous right now,” Mr. Trump told him.
Elsewhere, Adm. Giroir said there have been signs of progress in some places across the hard-hit Sun Belt but cautioned that no one is declaring mission accomplished.
“No one’s declaring victory. No one’s overly enthusiastic,” he said.
Mr. Trump on Thursday noted that place outside of the U.S. that were praised for their efforts to stamp out the coronavirus are seeing a resurgence, underscoring its wily nature and the need to protect the vulnerable instead of shutting the economy down again.
“Places where they thought they’d really done great,” Mr. Trump said. “It came back, and in a couple of cases came back very strongly.”
He said because of this, a long-term shutdown is not a viable strategy, after the U.S. closed much of its economy in March and April — only to see the virus spike again in certain states.
“It can come rearing back when you least expect it,” Mr. Trump said. “A permanent shutdown would no longer be the answer at all.”
Mr. Trump rattled off a list of countries, such as Australia and Japan, that are seeing spikes, and mentioned blue states where governors were praised for their responses, only to see an uptick.
But critics say the U.S., which has by far the most COVID-19 cases and deaths of any country in the world, likely didn’t shut down deep enough early on or have enough surveillance through testing to get the disease to manageable levels.
However, there have been some promising announcements on vaccine candidates in recent days.
Johnson & Johnson on Thursday announced the health company was starting human trials in its top vaccine candidate after there were promising results from injections in monkeys after a single dose.
The Trump administration has partnered with several companies, including Moderna and Pfizer, on vaccine development and distribution. Those companies both announced progress this week on Phase 3 clinical trials for their vaccine candidates.
The administration’s “Operation Warp Speed” is aiming to facilitate the development of a vaccine by the end of the year.
“We’re not going to cut any corners,” a senior administration official told reporters on a separate conference call Thursday. “If these vaccines are safe and effective, then the regulatory approval process goes appropriately.”
Public and private groups are working overtime to develop a vaccine, or at least therapeutics and treatments like plasma.
The use of plasma from recovered persons to treat patients with the same illness dates back to the 1890s and confers what’s known as “passive immunity,” since the recipient doesn’t produce his or her own antibodies but uses the donor’s, according to Nigel Paneth, a distinguished professor of epidemiology at Michigan State University.
“It works best when given early. It is probably ineffective as a last resort,” he said. “Based on previous infections, ideally it should be given in the first three days of illness, though we don’t have complete data for this on COVID.”
So far, over 50,000 people have received plasma for COVID-19 in the U.S., according to an initiative coordinated by the Mayo Clinic.
Members of Congress who have tested positive for the virus and recovered have donated their plasma and urged fellow survivors to do the same.
As for face shields and eye coverings, other experts have said there could be some benefits but that there hasn’t been extensive research on the topic.
Dr. Donald Milton, a University of Maryland professor who has written extensively on the airborne spread of the virus, said eye protection for people who must have face-to-face contact with others — such as dentists and barbers — is important.
“As personal protective equipment (PPE), eye protection is less important for other people, but still can offer some added protection in addition to face masks,” Dr. Milton said.
He said face shields probably block some release of the virus into the air, but that he would not recommend using face shields as an alternative to masks.
“I also expect that they are not generally as effective at blocking release of virus into the air as are masks,” he said.