CDC’s updated guidance on face masks says they also protect those who wear them from the novel coronavirus

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Masks not only protect people around the wearer from the spread of the coronavirus, but they also protects the wearer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in updated guidance that is the agency’s most explicit endorsement yet of masks to fight the pandemic.

The guidance says that while “masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets,” they “also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer.”

“And you know what that says?” Gov. Andy Beshear asked at his Thursday, Nov. 12, briefing. “It says the same thing that we’ve been saying, that wearing one of these masks not only keeps you from spreading the virus to others, but protects you. So with cases surging, wear your mask; it protects you.”

Beshear regularly pleads with Kentuckians to follow public-health guidance that has been proven to slow the spread of the virus, like wearing masks and social distancing, and those pleas have escalated as cases continue to surge across the state. On Friday, the state announced 3,173 new cases of the virus, by far the state’s highest single-day yet for cases. He also announced 25 more deaths from covid-19, also a record.

The CDC report says that mask mandates “can help avert future lockdowns,” especially if combined with “social distancing, hand hygiene and adequate ventilation.” Kentucky has had such a mandate since July 9, but compliance has been spotty.

Previous CDC guidance said wearing a mask was important to prevent people who were infected with the virus from infecting those around them, especially for those who have the virus but not symptoms. But growing evidence shows that a mask can also provide protection to the person wearing it.

“Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets through filtration, including filtration of fine droplets and particles less than 10 microns,” says the report.

It adds that multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts have demonstrated superior performance, compared to single layers of cloth with lower thread counts.The CDC’s update cites seven studies to support this new guidance, including several that show wearing cloth masks can reduce the risk of contracting the virus by 70 percent.

“Think about everybody wearing a mask and having a 70 percent reduction in the spread right now, what that would means,” said Beshear.

The report also highlights  an economic analysis that found “increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion, or about 5% of gross domestic product.”

Asked what he would say to those who question the CDC’s guidance because it’s always changing, Beshear noted that the coronavirus wasn’t even known until the end of last year, and we are learning more about every day. He said, “So if the CDC now knows from their studies that you can reduce the spread by 70 percent and protect yourself by wearing a mask — why the heck argue?”