Following weeks of uncertainty as to whether face masks are a sensible safety measure in the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have now published new guidelines on cloth masks based on several studies into how COVID-19 is transmitted.
The CDC is now officially recommending ” wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
The guidelines reiterate that continuing social distancing practices of 6 feet wherever possible remains our best defense against the virus and that masks are an extra precaution. “CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others,” reads the statement. “Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
However, during a White House press briefing on Friday, President Trump made a point of stating that he will not be following this advice.
“I just don’t want to wear one myself,” he said. “It’s a recommendation, they recommend it. I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing, I don’t know, somehow, sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, I don’t see it for myself.”
He also emphasized that wearing face coverings in public is not, at present, mandatory. “So it’s voluntary, you don’t have to do it,” he said. “They suggest it for a period of time. This is voluntary, I don’t think I’m gonna be doing it.”
While Trump is technically correct in his assertion that face masks are a voluntary option, his adamance that he will not be complying with official CDC guidance when it comes to fighting the pandemic can easily be interpreted as sending mixed signals (or even counter-messaging) to the country. This comes at the end of a week where Trump has repeatedly been accused of trivializing the pandemic, both by ignoring evidence of a shortage in coronavirus testing equipment and by knowingly downplaying the severity of the outbreak.