US Surgeon General: Face masks shouldn't be worn at 'expense of social distancing'

WASHINGTON -- Update: As of Friday, April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to wear face coverings in public.

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If you're not sick with the new coronavirus, should you wear a face mask in public?

The United States Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams didn't explicitly warn against using face coverings but said they cannot be worn "at the expense of social distancing."
Speaking on "Good Morning America" Wednesday, Dr. Adams said his office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization all originally agreed that healthy people did not need to wear masks based on the best available science.

Yet with new research showing that asymptomatic people can spread COVID-19, he said he asked the CDC to reevaluate this recommendation to see whether or not mask-wearing would prevent transmission of the disease.

"But here's the most important thing: Even if you do wear a mask, it can't be at the expense of social distancing. We don't want people to think, 'Hey, I'm going to wear a face covering, so it's appropriate for me to go around other people.' The most important thing to do is for people to stay at home," Dr. Adams said.

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Dr. Adams also pointed out that healthy people do not need N-95 masks, especially with the nationwide shortage.

"You may be taking it out of the hands of a health care worker who desperately needs it to care for patients," he said.

He said the CDC is still taking new mask-wearing recommendations into consideration. For now, the advice posted on its website: "If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a face mask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a face mask)."


The virus is believed to spread mostly through droplets from coughs or sneezes, and thus the main advice has been to keep your distance -- staying 6 feet away -- in addition to frequent hand-washing and not touching your face.

Trump said Tuesday that his scientific advisers made clear the general public shouldn't be competing with hospitals and health workers for scarce masks of any type.

His solution: "Use a scarf if you want," Trump said at the daily White House briefing. "It doesn't have to be a mask. It's not a bad idea at least for a period of time."

Earlier in the day, Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, had told CNN that once there are enough masks, there might be "some very serious consideration" about broadening the mask recommendations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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