The CDC on Friday issued its strongest mask guidance yet during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for “universal mask wearing” in all activity outside of one’s home. The new recommendation comes at the end of a week when the U.S. saw its deadliest day of the pandemic so far, with more than 3,100 lives lost on Thursday alone.
“Compelling evidence now supports the benefits of cloth face masks for both source control (to protect others) and, to a lesser extent, protection of the wearer,” the report states.
Other measures including physical distancing, avoiding nonessential or crowded indoor spaces, postponing travel, and more testing and contact tracing are also part of the strategy outlined in the report, which warns that “[t]he United States has entered a phase of high-level transmission.”
The new guidance lists “universal wearing of face masks” as the first recommendation to help stop the spread of the disease. It says masks should be worn for all indoor activity outside of an individual’s home, as well as during all outdoor activity when at least 6 feet of social distancing can’t be maintained.
It also recommends wearing masks in your own household if someone living there has tested positive for the virus or has potentially been exposed.
The CDC says masks are essential because about 50% of coronavirus spread comes from people who are not showing symptoms. The report notes that “colder weather, more time spent indoors, the ongoing U.S. holiday season, and silent spread of disease” are all factors leading to the virus’ explosion across the country.
Another recent CDC update determined that masks help protect the person wearing one, in addition to other people. CDC Director Robert Redfield has said masks may be the most effective tool for fighting the pandemic, even more than a vaccine.
Even as the U.S. sees a record-breaking rise in COVID-19 cases nine months into the pandemic, mask wearing remains a divisive issue. Some governors who initially opposed mask mandates issued them in November as hospitals filled near capacity, while others — including Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis — still refuse to require masks or punish people who don’t wear them.
The latest CDC report recommends state and local leaders “issue policies or directives mandating universal use of face masks in indoor (nonhousehold) settings.”