The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today called for “universal mask use” indoors for the first time. This was presented as being in response to the record numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths the U.S. is currently experiencing. However, since it has been clear for a long time that transmission of COVID-19 is most efficient indoors, one might ask why they waited this long!
After initial confusion about the value of masks, since April, the CDC has encouraged mask-wearing in public places when assembled with people outside one’s own household. The new guidance published today asks people to wear masks anytime they are outside their own home.
The guidance, presented in the CDC’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality report, acknowledged that the U.S. has entered “a phase of high-level transmission” as Americans spend more time indoors. The message was mainly “mask use is most crucial indoors” where social distancing cannot be maintained. The guidance also suggested using masks at home when a member of the household has been infected or potentially exposed to the virus.
The CDC also recommended postponing travel plans. While its recommendation supported testing for the virus, it warned, “Testing does not eliminate all risk and should be combined with other recommended public health strategies, including mask-wearing, social distancing and quarantines.”
This is all great advice, but once again the CDC seems to be way behind the curve, chasing the pandemic rather than getting in front of it. This advice should have been pushed in August, as cold weather was descending on the northern half of the United States. The CDC also suggests increased universal masking could prevent lockdowns. That information is of little solace now that we are initiating lockdowns!
This week, Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, has supported masks as “the most important, powerful public health tool” in combating the coronavirus. He also predicted that the COVID-19 death toll could surpass 450,000 by February. If he had been more proactive in his efforts at the CDC many of those lives might have been saved.