The CDC issued the new guidance this week, adding a layer to its previous message that masks prevent an infected person of spreading coronavirus to others.
HOUSTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Tuesday that masks worn over a person’s nose and mouth protect the wearer, not just others, from COVID-19.
When the CDC started urging Americans to wear face coverings back in April, they said masks could prevent an infected person from spreading the virus to others, by reducing the dispersion of respiratory droplets, such as saliva from coughing, sneezing, singing, yelling or heavy breathing. While this is still the main point of wearing masks, the CDC now cites growing evidence that wearing a mask also helps protect the person who wears it.
“It’s just a mask. That’s the tag line. Because it really just a mask, but yet something so simple, people think something so simple can’t be effective. It actually is effective,” said Dr. Umair Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health.
The more people wear masks consistently and correctly, the stronger the protective benefits become, the CDC said.
“Up to 50 percent of the people who are infected have no symptoms, so you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they’re infected or not,” said Dr. David Callender, President and CEO of Memorial Hermann.
One of the biggest challenges for public health officials trying to communicate the importance of masks, is the politicization of them.
“(Wearing a mask), unfortunately, has become a political football. We’ve politicized even wearing masks,” Dr. Shah said.
One of the latest examples came from newly elected U.S. House Representative for Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who tweeted Friday about the new member orientation:
“I proudly told my freshman class that masks are oppressive. In GA, we work out, shop, go to restaurants, go to work, and school without masks. My body, my choice. #FreeYourFace“
In August, Georgia governor Brian Kemp allowed local governments to enact mask requirements.
Greene also falsely claimed gyms in Washington D.C. were closed. D.C.’s Phase 2 of its reopening plans allows gyms to be open with restrictions.
Dr. Shah and Dr. Callender are stressing mask-wearing, as cases of COVID-19 in Harris County and across Texas are increasing once again.
“The risk is out there, we’re seeing the numbers in our community grow,” Dr. Callender said.
The concern for Houston-area medical experts like Dr. Shah and Dr. Callender is that difference in consistency of messaging from the federal government compared to state and local governments. In Houston and Harris County, the local-level messaging since the beginning of the pandemic has been the same: wear a mask to protect yourself and others.
“If it’s just something that is different, it causes an incredible amount of confusion and complacency at the individual level,” Dr. Shah said. “People are chancing it and they’re taking chance and risk with their health.”