Jul 12, 2020 - Health

Surgeon general defends reversal on face mask policy

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams defended his and other health officials' reversal on whether people should wear face coverings to protect against the coronavirus, arguing on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday: "When we learn better, we do better."

Why it matters: Adams has faced significant criticism for tweeting in February, "Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!"

  • Studies now show that wearing face masks "could result in a large reduction in risk of infection." The mixed messaging in the early days of the pandemic may have cost thousands of lives.

The big picture: Adams claimed that the science when he urged Americans not to buy face coverings suggested that "there was not a high degree of asymptomatic spread." He also cited fears about people hoarding personal protective equipment, a concern from early on in the pandemic when hospitals had a depleted supply.

  • Adams said the CDC, World Health Organization and a New England Journal of Medicine article in May all indicated that masks were not effective.

What he's saying: "It's important for people to understand that once upon a time we prescribed cigarettes for asthmatics, and leeches and cocaine and heroin for people as medical treatments. When we learn better, we do better," Adams said.

  • "Science is about giving the best recommendations you can and when you learn more, you change those recommendations. Our recommendations have changed and now people of America — important to know, you should wear a face covering."

Go deeper: Where the science stands on using face masks against coronavirus

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