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Masks may offer benefit in slowing coronavirus spread

Young woman wearing a face mask.
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Health officials are changing their tune on the benefits of wearing masks and the Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face covering in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

On Thursday, Alpine County Health Officer Dr. Richard Johnson said cloth face coverings could help protect people who must leave their homes to conduct essential travel to medical appointments, grocery shopping or pharmacy visits.

“The guidance does not require people to wear face coverings — and is not a substitute for our current guidance regarding social distancing and hand-washing, which are the most effective ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “Wearing a cloth face covering can potentially provide some additional benefit by acting as a reminder for other people to keep their distance, and it could help reduce the spread of infectious particles from those who could be infected but don’t have symptoms.”

Johnson said face coverings could increase the risk if wearers aren’t also washing their hands and practicing social distancing.

“Because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak as opposed to coughing and sneezing — the better part of valor is that when you’re out, when you can’t maintain that 6-foot distance, to wear some sort of facial covering,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the country’s top medical experts on the virus, to the Associated Press.

He also made it clear that the aim is not to “take away from the availability of masks that are needed for the health care providers who are in real and present danger of getting infected from the people that they’re taking care of.” 

A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force’s discussion said officials would suggest that nonmedical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth people go outside — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.

President Donald Trump, who was tested again for coronavirus Thursday using a new rapid test, indicated he would support such a recommendation. The White House said Trump’s latest test returned a negative result in 15 minutes and Trump was “healthy and without symptoms.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force’s coordinator, told reporters that the White House was concerned the mask guidance would lead to a “false sense of security” for Americans. She said new data shows the administration’s social-distancing guidelines were not being followed to the extent necessary to keep virus-related deaths to a minimum.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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