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Tipsheet

'Cloth Masks Are Little More Than Facial Decorations': CNN Medical Analyst

Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

CNN Medical Analyst Leana Wen joined Victor Blackwell on Monday afternoon to offer advice for Americans as Omicron panic grips mainstream airwaves ahead of Christmas and New Year's gatherings. And one warning she gave viewers about masks is raising eyebrows.

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"We should be keeping the events that are safe and also the events that have fun for people too," Wen — who previously served as president of Planned Parenthood before being ousted after less than one year with the organization — said of New Year's Eve celebrations. "We can't be canceling everything especially if we're going to be living with COVID for the foreseeable future," Wen said in an unintentional debunking of President Biden's quixotic campaign promise to "shut down the virus."

For those who choose to attend celebrations in Times Square or elsewhere, Wen said "I would make sure that you're vaccinated and boosted, make sure that you're wearing a mask even though it's outdoors." 

Wen advised that, "If there are lots of people packed around you, wearing a three-ply surgical mask" would offer protection but told viewers "don't wear a cloth mask — cloth masks are little more than facial decorations — there's no place for them in light of Omicron," Wen explained.

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Excuse me? Cloth masks — the likes of which have turned into a cottage industry peddled everywhere from Etsy to grocery store checkout lanes to the CDC's guidance— are "little more than facial decorations" now? Got it. But the White House doesn't seem to.

As Katie covered back in August, another CNN guest — former Biden advisor and University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy Director Michael Osterholm — similarly said that "many of the face cloth wearings people wear today are not very effective in reducing any of the virus movement in or out." But the White House, via Press Secretary Jen Psaki, rejected Osterholm's conclusion.

Wen's statement is also reminiscent of an email Fauci sent in early 2020 saying "The typical mask you buy in the drug store is not really effective in keeping out virus, which is small enough to pass through the material."

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So the Biden administration has known for months that there are questions about certain masks' efficacy, but they've rebuffed such warnings and continued to advocate for masking without telling Americans the full story about which ones are believed to be most effective. 

As the CDC guidance on masking — last updated on October 25, 2021 — explains, including with renderings that seem to show cloth masks, that Americans should not choose masks "specially labeled 'surgical' N95 respirators, as those should be prioritized for healthcare personnel." In the section addressing mask guidelines for Americans who rely on lipreading to communicate, the CDC advises "wearing a clear mask or a cloth mask with a clear panel."

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