Americans should wear face masks as a way to help stifle the spread of COVID-19, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top doctors leading the public health fight against the coronavirus pandemic — a departure from previous government guidance to only wear a mask if you were caring for someone with the illness or had it yourself.
“If everybody does that, we’re each protecting each other,” Fauci said in an interview with PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff. His comments came shortly before President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force shared national recommendations for people to wear non-medical face masks. The task force did not recommend the use of surgical or medical grade face masks, which are in short supply for hospitals and front line health care workers.
For months, federal health officials discouraged the use of surgical face masks. In recent weeks, some health experts began to question that decision, suggesting that the use of face coverings could have helped slow the spread of the virus sooner. But on Friday, the task force said it was now recommending face coverings “in light of recent studies.” Trump added that this recommendation does not eliminate the need for social distancing.
This guidance comes as more states this week told residents to stay at home to prevent further spread of the virus that causes the disease, COVID-19. But more states and communities should join in tightening those measures, Fauci said.
He warned that the U.S. is currently “in a very difficult period. It will get worse before it gets better.”
So far, testing has confirmed roughly 240,000 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S., where nearly 5,900 people have died after they were infected by the virus, according to the latest data from The COVID Tracking Project. Public health experts have said those numbers are likely an undercount because testing remains inadequate, despite being the only way to measure how far the pandemic has spread within the country.
As of Thursday, the pandemic crossed another milestone, now infecting more than 1 million people worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers who have been tracking the virus’ global spread. Fauci said he was confident Americans “will get out of this.”
Other highlights from the interview:
- On equipment shortages across the U.S. The Trump administration has suggested health care workers and states have what they need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at a time when governors, hospital administrators, physicians and nurses are pleading for more supplies and equipment such as face masks, gowns and ventilators. On Thursday, Jared Kushner, senior adviser to and son-in-law of the president, suggested states should not receive supplies from the National Strategic Stockpile. Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted that people should “stop complaining” about their supplies and that states like New York had enough to fight the virus. During the interview, Fauci said, “I hope we never get to the situation where people will not have the necessary equipment that they need.”
- China’s transparency about the virus: No health care system in the world was fully prepared to deal with COVID-19, Fauci said, because the virus so easily transmits among humans. But Fauci said that if the world had known earlier that the virus could spread so efficiently, other nations would have acted more quickly to take measures like shutting down international travel, possibly buying them more time to prepare. “That delay in transparency” had an effect on our awareness of how bad the pandemic could become, he added.
- Fauci’s need for heightened security: This week, it was reported that threats had been made against Fauci. In response, he received heightened security. When asked if the job caused him to worry, Fauci said, “This is the life that I’ve chosen, and I accept it. It is what it is. The thing that I don’t like is the effect it has on my family.”