SAN JOSE (KPIX) — While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still expected to revise guidelines and advise all Americans to wear face coverings when outside their homes, Bay Area public health departments made that decision Thursday and announced the recommendation to local residents.
“It is one more way to do what we have to do to and that is interrupt the spread of this virus,” said chairman of the National Academy of Sciences and Dr. Harvey Fineberg.
The academy, which is a prestigious scientific panel, was asked by the White House to provide insight on the concern of the possibility that the novel coronavirus could be spread through conversation.
In a letter to the White House Wednesday, Fineberg wrote that research showed aerosolized droplets produced by talking or even breathing could spread the virus and that the virus could also be suspended in the air.
“One of the insidious things about this virus is that it can be spread by individuals who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic,” Fineberg noted.
In fact, researchers in Singapore discovered that up to 10 percent of new infections are sparked by people who look healthy but are infected.
“A big challenge is: how do you interrupt the spread … when you can’t be confident that the person could be infected,” Fineberg said.
On Thursday, Bay Area public health departments said one answer is to wear face coverings and they recommended that all of us cover our mouths and noses when leaving home for essential trips such as to the doctor or grocery store.
The announcement also included the recommendation avoid using surgical or N-95 masks, which are in great demand by health care workers and first responders and in low supply. Instead, public health officials recommended that the public wear bandanas, fabric masks or even neck gaiters.
“I’s not that we would be protected from others but others would be protected from us,” Fineberg said.
UC Berkeley professor of epidemiology Dr. Art Reingold agreed.
“If you are perhaps infected and don’t know it then it’ll reduce the chance of putting the virus in the air and infecting other people,” Reingold said.
Experts said, however, face coverings should not be considered a substitute for shelter-in-place, hand washing and social distancing.
“If we’re all in this together and we all wear those kinds of coverings, we stand a good chance of interrupting some frequency of the unknown transmission,” Fineberg said.