Wear a Mask. Maybe.

Conflicting guidelines from the CDC are unhelpful.

After weeks of encouraging healthy people to save the masks for sick people and medical professionals, there is now serious consideration of reversing course.

WaPo (“CDC considering recommending general public wear face coverings in public“):

Should we all be wearing masks? That simple question is under review by officials in the U.S. government and has sparked a grass-roots pro-mask movement. But there’s still no consensus on whether widespread use of facial coverings would make a significant difference, and some infectious disease experts worry that masks could lull people into a false sense of security and make them less disciplined about social distancing.

In recent days, more people have taken to covering their faces, although it remains a scattershot strategy driven by personal choice. The government does not recommend it.

That may change. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering altering the official guidance to encourage people to take measures to cover their faces amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a federal official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because it is an ongoing matter of internal discussion and nothing has been finalized.

CDC guidance on masks remains under development, the federal official said. The official said the new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers.

Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings, according to a second official who shared that thinking on a personal Facebook account. It would be a way to help “flatten the curve,” the official noted.

Such DIY cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Current CDC guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings.

So, maybe wear a mask. Maybe not. But if you do wear a mask, please don’t make it a good one.

Got it?

FILED UNDER: Health, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    While I understand the objections, I’ve always thought wearing a dusk mask is the only real way to stop people from touching their faces (or, at least touching it where it counts the most).

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Of course wear a mask. I’ve been muttering about this for weeks. At the very least, any kind of covering over your mouth and nose lessens the possibility of you sneezing coronavirus all over the place and just as importantly it stops you touching your face.

    I get that CDC doesn’t want to start another run on face masks, but their flaks are on TV lying to people about this, and Jesus Christ does no one understand that lies are not helpful when people are worried? Yes, masks, scarves, anything covering your nose and mouth is helpful. Duh.

  3. grumpy realist says:

    The Czech Republic is about to put a mandatory mask ordinance into effect.

    What a mask is likely to do is cut down on any viral load you’re exposed to, which gives your body a better chance to fight off whatever you do run into. And multiple people have pointed out that it keeps you from touching your face.

    Just wait until the home sewers and the cosplay people start fiddling around with the concept….At the moment the only variant I’ve seen is the colour of the mask. Just wait until they get more confidence that their versions will still protect them….

  4. Mu Yixiao says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The Chinese have been doing that with their PM2.5 masks for years. Most of them are “cutsie” things like kitten faces and bunny faces. Though you’ll see some that are snarling teeth or such.

    I can only imagine what the US cosplayers will be coming up with.

    Hmm… if this goes into summer, I wonder if the full-face “sun shields” that they wear in China will become popular in the west? I mean… c’mon… Look how sexy that is! (SFW)

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    Whether we should wear a mask or not seems a moot point. Where are we supposed to get these masks?

  6. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Good question.

  7. Kathy says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I secured a few last week, of the type worn by food industry workers. I had to deliver samples Monday 23rd, and I decided it was not a bad idea to reduce exposure by wearing one. as far as I know, there is no shortage of these in our company. No clue how effective they may be.

    Lately lots of people in jobs dealing with the public wear them, in particular supermarket employees and clerks at convenience stores.

  8. Mu Yixiao says:

    @Stormy Dragon:


    (Normally? Probably NSFW. But you’re all working from home, so… upside to COVID.)

  9. CSK says:

    @Kathy: Walmart is going to start distributing masks and gloves to its clerks.

  10. motopilot says:
  11. Stormy Dragon says:


    Changing the problem from “I don’t have access to masks” into “I don’t have access to sewing machines” isn’t really a big help.

  12. David S. says:

    Masks would be irrelevant if we were observing social distancing properly.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @David S.: But lots of workers are essential. And people need to get groceries and pick up their prescriptions. We can’t quarantine 339 million people for months on end.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Except that there are TONS of people with a) fabric stashes and b) sewing machines at home. There’s at least one person on YouTube giving instructions and starting up a crowd-sourced project to get a million masks made. My roommate’s sister-in-law has been sewing up a storm.

  15. Stormy Dragon says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Crafters volunteering time and materials to help medical workers get PPE is a great thing, and your roommate’s sister-in-law should certainly be proud of her work!

    But if the CDC advises everyone to start wearing masks, those projects don’t help members of the general public get masks, nor help people who aren’t already sewers get the equipment, materials, and expertise needed to make their own.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Such DIY cloth masks would potentially lower the risk that the wearer, if infected, would transmit the virus to other people. Current CDC guidance is that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings. [emphasis added]

    It seems to me that the issue is the wisdom of trying to move the society to a mindset of *everyone may be a source of infection* rather than the more hip *wear a mask but make sure it’s ineffective* of snark. That’s a serious question. A typical mask doesn’t protect me from you, mostly the other way around.

    In the age of Trump and the ancillary philosophy *let the people with the resources get the best and leave the others behind [thinking of the school post a day or so ago],* it may be pointless to ask Americans to be altruistic and take possibly unnecessary precautions for the sake of others. That’s what the CDC is discussing, whether they realize it or not.

  17. Kathy says:

    The 7-11 downstairs is selling masks for about $0.50 each.

    I’m running low on hand sanitizer.

    Now, that’s not a crucial commodity. Soap and water are much more effective. The sanitizer is nice to have when you don’t have soap or water available, like when you go to the store. I’m thinking, therefore, to put away the 250 ml or so I have, and use that to fill a smaller (abt 50 ml.) container I can carry around.

    Three also seems to be plenty of hand sanitizer available in many public places, including work.

  18. JKBh says:

    It is an exposure problem. Time and intensity. It is unfortunate that they choose to speak deceptively about masks “not working” unless worn perfectly, but it is government and also pretty much common in personal protective equipment rhetoric.

    But a mask, even with leaks will reduce the load you intake per breath. The 95 in N95 means 5% gets through. If you wear it imperfectly, perhaps it is only N85 or N50. On the other hand, even a cloth mask will catch the spittle from someone coughing in your face, but the that should be very rare with social distancing.

    That said, if you aren’t helping a patient where the procedure is likely to cause them to expel a lot of virus into your face, such as a health care worker might, you don’t need N95 masks. And a surgical style mask will reduce any virus load you might intake if you are simply in a confined space where someone has shed virus. A NYC ICU doctor did a video (David Price, I believe) and his opinion was you needed a fair concentration in a room for 15-30 minutes to get COVID19.

    Out on the street you don’t need a mask. In a big box with lots of air flow and air space, you don’t really need a mask. If you are in a room providing basic care to a person ill with the virus in your home, you might wear a surgical style mask. If they come into areas with the rest of the family, they should wear a surgical style mask to avoid droplet spreading.

    Remember, it is time/intensity of exposure. SARS-CoV-2 or SARS 2.0 is not rampaging through the neighborhood, it is about for a period when someone has shed it but you need a fair load to really cause illness. We may find with the new anti-body testing that many got light loads of virus and their immune system has created anti-bodies. Remains to be seen.

  19. Scott says:

    If you need a mask quick, here is a way for a no-sew mask.


    Takes about a minute and actually works. Though my daughter rudely told me I looked like I was wearing a sanitary napkin.

  20. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @JKBh: link??
    Scientific basis or opinion?