CDC advises ‘face masks are for the sick’

PINEDALE – Many across the country are questioning local, state and federal health officials about wearing face masks – of any kind – while in public places or around people where COVID-19 might be carried or transmitted. 

More recently, concerns and confusion about the need for non-medical face masks – or not – are being weighed in many forums. 

The Wyoming Department of Health, as do others including the public, has followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines regarding face masks and respiratory illnesses, advising only sick people and caregivers should wear them. 

Kim Deti, DOH spokeswoman, was asked on March 26 about personal mask-wearing in general during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19,” she replied, adding the CDC advised wearing a face mask “if you are sick.” 

“You should wear a face mask when you are around other people (e.g. sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a health-care provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a face mask (for example because it causes trouble breathing) then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a face mask if they enter your room,” she said. “If you are NOT sick then 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 best way people can avoid transmission is by maintaining social distancing, because COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets, according to the DOH and public health officials. 

It is known that nationwide, N-95 masks and other equipment and tests will run short as the pandemic spreads across more states. People are questioning on all levels if non-medical face masks can protect themselves from those who do not know they are sick. 

Previous advice not to wear them is shifting, with CDC Director Robert Redfield telling NPR “the agency is reviewing its guidelines on who should wear masks.” 

On Saturday, March 28, Sublette County officials reported the first confirmed case of COVID-19, a 59-year-old woman from Pinedale who was self-isolating at home with mild symptoms. That same day, 94 confirmed cases were reported in Wyoming. 

As of Thursday, April 2, Sublette County still had one confirmed case with 23 tests, five pending. And Wyoming’s confirmed cases rose to 150 with no deaths reported. 

At the Sublette Center, CNA manager Lara Hayward said people from around the county are sewing face masks and bringing them in. Anything is welcome and they are being worn over N-95 medical masks, she said. 

“The ones that work the best cup the face, which is better at keeping side air from coming in and out,” she said. “Some go down under the chin. What would be really fabulous is to have some with a filter pocket in case we ran out of personal protective equipment.” 

Pleated face masks also work to fit over the N-95s, which the facility always orders to have two weeks on reserve. With the pleated versions, she said extra little darts right beside the cheeks make them closer fitting. 

Hayward’s advice:  “The best practice is still keeping your distance and washing your hands. If people are wearing face masks, they should not get too comfortable with them. It’s a second barrier.” 

In Pinedale, Cindy Van and a large group of friends are sewing face masks from high-quality cotton fabric they have on hand, with a focus on local health-care providers including Proactive Rehabilitation. 

“We are continuing to make masks that have a pocket for filter liners with fabric and supplies donated by those sewing,” she said in an email. “We just have to keep everyone safe and our health-care workers cannot practice social distancing so it is critical that these masks go to the providers first.” 

As of March 30, CDC was still advising face masks for only sick people. Asked if face masks could provide protection in case sick people are unaware they had COVID-19, Deti said, “The initial recommendations that I sent stand. They are from CDC.” 

That stance is on the verge of shifting after President Trump told Americans on national television to wear a bandana, a scarf, anything. 

The New York Times reported on Tuesday, March 31, that the White House Coronavirus Task Force asked CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield to review face mask guidelines. Dr. Redfield is quoted as saying the guidance “is being critically re-reviewed” and that “coronavirus is probably three times as infectious as the flu.” 

People who are infected could shed the virus for two days before they have symptoms – if they have any, he said. 

“This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country, because we have asymptomatic transmitters and we have individuals who are transmitting 48 hours before they become symptomatic.” 

White House Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci feared supporting public face masks might take away from medical personnel who will need them, but, he added “The idea of getting a much more broad community-wide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force. The CDC group is looking at that very carefully.” 

Wednesday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams – who had advised against the general public wearing face masks – told NBC’s Today Show that he has asked the CDC “to investigate whether this recommendation should change.”