Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, confirmed that public-health experts discouraged the public from wearing face masks towards the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak because they were concerned there would not be enough available for health-care workers.
During the early weeks of the pandemic, public-health experts “were concerned the public health community, and many people were saying this, were concerned that it was at a time when personal protective equipment, including the N95 masks and the surgical masks, were in very short supply,” Fauci said in an interview with TheStreet.
“We wanted to make sure that the people, namely the health care workers, who were brave enough to put themselves in a harm way, to take care of people who you know were infected with the coronavirus and the danger of them getting infected,” Fauci continued.
On April 6, the World Health Organization released guidance discouraging the widespread use of face masks for the public, warning that it could create a “false sense of security.” While a medical mask could reduce the risk of infection, wearing a mask could also cause people to neglect other precautionary measures such as social distancing and hand hygiene, and could lead to people touching their faces under their masks the United Nations health agency warned. The WHO cautioned that widespread use of masks could exhaust the supplies for health workers.
Just days earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended that all Americans wear face masks when out in public.
On June 5, the WHO updated its guidance to recommend that the public wear fabric face masks or face shields in public to protect against the coronavirus.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also initially recommended against the public wearing masks, calling them “not effective” at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” Adams wrote in a February 29 tweet.
However, on April 1, Adams said he had asked the CDC to look into whether masks should in fact be recommended for the public, saying “we now know there is a significant amount of asymptomatic spread.”
Months into the pandemic, Fauci assured that “masks work,” both as protection for healthy individuals and to prevent infected individuals from spreading the infection to others.
“Masks are not 100 percent protective. However, they certainly are better than not wearing a mask,” Fauci said. “Both to prevent you, if you happen to be a person who maybe feels well, but has an asymptomatic infection that you don’t even know about, to prevent you from infecting someone else, but also it can protect you a certain degree, not a hundred percent, in protecting you from getting infected from someone who, either is breathing, or coughing, or sneezing, or singing or whatever it is in which the droplets or the aerosols go out. So masks work.”
“The important thing is actually physical separation,” Fauci emphasized.