Dec 4, 2020 - Health

CDC: It's time for "universal face mask use"

Photo of an arm reaching into a box of surgical face masks
Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

The CDC is urging “universal face mask use” for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began, citing recent case spikes as the U.S. has entered a phase of “high-level transmission” before winter officially begins.

Why it matters: Daily COVID-related deaths across the U.S. hit a new record on Wednesday. Face coverings have been shown to increase protection of the wearer and those around them, despite some Americans' reluctance to use them.

The big picture: "With colder weather, more time spent indoors, the ongoing U.S. holiday season, and silent spread of disease" the country now requires requires a multi-pronged approach to reduce the risk of transmission. Universal mask use outside people's homes — whether indoors or in close proximity to others outdoors — is one crucial strategy, according to the CDC.

  • 50% of new infections are transmitted by asymptomatic people, which means face masks are essential to avoid contact.
  • Other strategies for prevention include social distancing, postponing travel and safeguarding at-risk groups.
  • The CDC has also advocated for creating community-level plans to distribute face masks to populations with barriers to access.

What they’re saying: “Consistent and correct use of face masks is a public health strategy critical to reducing respiratory transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC said in its Friday statement.

Context: Wearing face masks has been a contentious issue in the U.S., with states divided on mask mandates.

  • President Trump and some Republicans in his circle have not always followed CDC guidance to wear masks.

What to watch: President-elect Joe Biden told CNN on Thursday he plans to ask the American public to wear face masks for his first 100 days in office.

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