The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging Americans to wear masks indoors when they are not home amid a surge of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. In a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published Friday, the health agency warned that the country has entered into a “phase of high-level transmission” of the novel coronavirus.
“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 where a multipronged approach to implementing all evidence-based public health strategies at both the individual and community levels is essential,” the report said.
Other strategies in addition to face mask use include maintaining physical distance and limiting in-person contact, avoiding nonessential indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces, increasing testing to rapidly identify and isolate infected persons, contact tracing, safeguarding high-risk individuals, protecting essential workers, postponing travel, increasing room air ventilation and practicing hand hygiene, as well as widespread availability of a vaccine.
“In combination, these strategies can reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission, long-term sequelae or disability, and death, and mitigate the pandemic’s economic impact,” the report said.
The agency noted that stopping the spread is essential to keeping businesses and schools open.
The report was also careful to note that N95 respirators should be reserved for health care workers and other medical responders, but that cloth masks or nonmedical disposable masks, when used correctly, would suffice.
“Face mask use is most important in indoor spaces and outdoors when physical distance of 6 feet cannot be maintained,” the report said. “Within households, face masks should be used when a member of the household is infected or has had recent potential COVID-19 exposure.”
Mask use has been a hot topic of debate as of late, with President-elect Joe Biden indicating that one of his first priorities would be to implement mask mandates nationwide. However, Fox News’ Dr. Marc Siegel said such a mandate could backfire, and “may actually lead to more of a rebellion against it.”
The report comes on the same day that CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield approved a panel advisory plan for vaccine distribution, with the initial limited supply of the eventual vaccine to given to health care workers and long-term care facilities. The distribution now hinges on the FDA’s approval, with the regulatory agency set to meet Dec. 10 to discuss Pfizer’s application for EUA.