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Surgeon General: Here Is What Wearing Face Masks Really Accomplishes

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

United States Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams clarified on Friday morning that wearing protective masks is not a measure of self-preservation.

Those wishing to wear a mask in public, he said during an interview on the Michael Koolidge Show, could prevent infecting other people. The masks being manufactured by dozens of private industries and even private citizens are useful in stopping asymptomatic people from contaminating others but, he reiterated, would not protect the wearer from being contaminated by the Wuhan Coronavirus. 


Adams also said that if private citizens were in possession of N95 respirators those should be given to healthcare workers who are in dire need of them across the country. 

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made an official recommendation that people in public should wear clean, fabric face coverings, including those made at home. During the White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing on Friday, Adams reiterated his earlier remarks. 

Following Trump's personal assertion that he wouldn't wear a mask in the Oval Office while talking to global leaders, Adams told the American people that masks simply would not protect them in public, However, he said, data had confirmed that the mask could stop infected people from unknowingly infecting others. 

The change that caused the CDC to make the official announcement on Friday came from data that showed many people who carried the disease were asymptomatic and didn't know they should have been self isolating to protect others. 

"It's important to know that a significant portion of coronavirus patients are asymptomatic," Adams said. He also said that some people are infectious but without symptoms for up to two weeks, further necessitating the extra precaution. Adams had noted in the past that the advice being given to Americans regarding the efficacy of face coverings had been unclear. On Friday however, he spoke in no uncertain terms. 


Adams was careful to say that wearing masks in public was in no way a replacement for social distancing guidelines and all Americans should continue following the protocol of maintaining six feet distance from others. Asymptomatic and presymptomatic people, he said, posed a significant threat by coughing, sneezing, or even breathing near others. "This means that the virus can spread among people in close proximity," he said.

With the new recommendation officially announced, Adams also laid out some specific protocols that should accompany wearing fabric face coverings.

"If you do choose to wear a face mask, wash your hands first," he said. "Do not touch your face while wearing a face covering." He also reiterated the need to leave the respirators to the professionals on the front line.

"Please, please leave the N95 masks to healthcare workers," he said, also reminding people once more that the mask will not prevent people from contracting the virus and social distancing protocols should not be replaced by a cloth face covering. 


"If people do choose to wear a face covering, they're wearing it to protect their neighbors."

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