Since this story's publication, the CDC has recommended that Americans wear masks or face coverings in public to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Editor's note (April 13, 2020): Since this story's publication, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that Americans wear cloth masks or face coverings when in public to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus. You can find our full breakdown on the science behind wearing masks, how to wear them, and how to make them, here.
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams explained at the White House coronavirus briefing on April 3 that the recommendation changed because so many people with COVID-19 don't show symptoms or aren't showing symptoms yet, but they can still spread the disease to other people.
"In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends and the task force recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain," Adams said. "These include places like grocery stores and pharmacies. We especially recommend this in areas of significant community-based transmission. It is critical."
Below is how this story originally appeared on March 2:
- US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Monday, March 2 that wearing face masks could actually increase a person's risk of contracting COVID-19, echoing remarks he made on Saturday that called for people to "stop buying masks."
- In a similar stance, Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the US coronavirus task force, said on Saturday, February 29 that the "average American" does not need to "go out and buy" a mask to protect themselves from coronavirus.
- However, Pence also said the US is working with 3M and other manufacturers to produce at least 35 million more masks per month.
- Photos and reports have shown masks and other supplies flying off the shelves as Americans grapple with the possibility of an outbreak in the US.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
US officials including Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Vice President Mike Pence have urged people against buying and wearing masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus.
In an interview on Fox News' "Fox & Friends" on Monday, Adams said wearing face masks could actually increase a person's risk of contracting the coronavirus.
"You can increase your risk of getting it by wearing a mask if you are not a health care provider," Adams said. "Folks who don't know how to wear them properly tend to touch their faces a lot and actually can increase the spread of coronavirus," he added.
Adams' comments Monday reiterate his blaring tweet from the weekend, urging people to "STOP BUYING MASKS." He said that they were "NOT effective" to the general public and noted that the increased demand in masks puts medical professionals at risk.
The surgeon general's comments over the past couple of days came after the US confirmed its second coronavirus death — a person in Washington state. At a Saturday press conference, Trump, Pence, and other administration officials spoke about the coronavirus threat after the first US patient had died, also in Washington state.
"The president mentioned masks," Pence said at a press conference Saturday, the day the US had its first coronavirus death. "This morning we talked a great deal about additional medical supplies. Let me be very clear, and I'm sure the physicians who are up here will reflect this as well: The average American does not need to go out and buy a mask."
The president announced at a press conference at the White House on Wednesday that the vice president will in charge of the nation's coronavirus strategy. The federal government has faced criticism over its response to the virus as it continues to spread around the globe.
The US has access to 43 million medical masks, President Donald Trump said, just one of the resources that he credited with ensuring the country is "prepared for whatever circumstance."
The vice president said the US is contracting with 3M to create 35 million more masks each month. He also said the administration will work with other (as yet unnamed) mask manufacturers and added that the task force is working to develop a course of action that would prioritize masks for the use by "high-risk" healthcare professionals.
Pence cited the president's decision at the beginning of February to bar all foreign nationals who'd recently traveled in China as one reason that US citizens do not have to worry about the coronavirus. The CDC also does not recommend that average US citizens wear masks
The CDC only recommends masks for select groups of people: Those in a region currently experiencing an outbreak, healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients, and anyone who experiences flu-like symptoms.
The World Health Organization joined TikTok last week to provide accurate information about COVID-19. In one of two videos posted, it explained most people should not wear masks and provided instructions for how to properly wear one.
For everyone else, other tried-and-true methods of avoiding illness, like steering clear of sick individuals, refraining from touching your face, and regularly washing your hands, are more effective than wearing masks.
"There's little harm in it," Eric Toner, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, previously told Business Insider's Aria Bendix. "But it's not likely to be very effective in preventing it."
Meanwhile, masks and other supplies have started to fly off store shelves in the US as people stock up due to fears of an outbreak. More than 64 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the US so far, and four are believed to be cases of community spread — those patients did not visit an area with an outbreak or have any known contact with someone sick.
"I'm just a few days into this job," the vice president said on Saturday of his new position on the coronavirus task force. "I can tell you, having spent time with these extraordinary professionals the president just alluded to, having spoken directly to more than a dozen governors, including Gov. Jay Inslee this morning in Washington state: I think every American would be proud to know what I've heard about the work of HHS, the work of the CDC, and the work of all agencies."