- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2020

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday said that for the moment, the federal government is not recommending that members of the public who are healthy wear protective masks amid the escalating coronavirus epidemic.

“What the World Health Organization and the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] have reaffirmed in the last few days is that they do not recommend the general public wear masks,” Dr. Adams said on “Fox & Friends.”

He said wearing a mask improperly can increase someone’s risk of getting a disease because people might touch their face more, that it gives people a false sense of security, and that there are still personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages across the country.

“So we want to make sure we are reserving PPE for the people who most need it,” Dr. Adams said. “That’s how you’re going to get the largest effect because if health care workers get sick, they can’t take care of you when you get sick.”

President Trump on Monday had said he could picture an America where everyone wears a protective mask in public.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday that the White House coronavirus task force would discuss the issue at a meeting later in the day, but agreed that right now they don’t want to take away masks from health care workers who need them.

“But when we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about … broadening this recommendation about using masks,” Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN. “We’re not there yet, but I think we’re close to coming to some determination.”

The Washington Post reported late Monday that the CDC is weighing a change to its official guidance to encourage members of the public to cover their faces amid the COVID-19 outbreak, though not with surgical or N95 masks that are currently in short supply.

Dr. Adams said people who are sick should wear a mask.

“If you have a mask and it makes you feel better, then by all means wear it,” he said. But know that the more you touch your face, the more you put yourself at risk.”

The surgeon general shot down the idea of mass-producing N95 masks that health care workers are wearing for the general public.

“You have to get fit-tested,” he said. “As a medical professional, I can’t just go out and wear an N95. I have to make sure it’s properly fitted and I have the right size in order for it to work properly.”

Dr. Adams said there may come a day where the government might change their recommendations on the public’s wearing cotton masks but that the data isn’t there yet.

“CDC is looking at it and we’ll put out new recommendations as the guidance warrants,” he said. “But WHO and CDC, right now, say that’s not what they recommend.”

In response to a question on Monday, President Trump had said he could see a country where everyone in the U.S. wears a protective mask in public.

“It’s certainly something we could discuss,” the president said. “We’ll take a look at it — for a period of time. Not forever.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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