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WASHINGTON — In guidance published on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called on all Americans to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The recommendation comes as hospitals across the nation fill up with people sickened by COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The onset of winter is expected to worsen the situation, even if a vaccine is available within weeks, and the directive appears to have been issued in response to that reality. “With colder weather, more time spent indoors, the ongoing U.S. holiday season, and silent spread of disease, with approximately 50% of transmission from asymptomatic persons, the United States has entered a phase of high-level transmission,” it says.
There have been more than 14 million coronavirus infections in the United States, and nearly 280,000 deaths. Face masks remain one of the best tools to fight the coronavirus, which is transmitted through droplets spread by people when they cough, sneeze or even talk loudly.
When the pandemic first started, public health officials downplayed the need to wear face masks and in fact discouraged their use, fearing shortages. But as production of masks increased, and the science on airborne transmission became clearer, the CDC began to shift its messaging.
“Consistent and correct use of face masks is a public health strategy critical to reducing respiratory transmission,” the CDC says. It goes on to say that because first responders need N95 respirators, and those respirators remain in short supply, ordinary Americans should wear “nonvalved, multilayer cloth masks or nonmedical disposable masks.”
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