A key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force said Tuesday the idea of recommending broad use of masks in the US to prevent the spread of coronavirus is under “very active discussion” by the group.
“The idea of getting a much more broad, community-wide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force. The CDC group is looking at that very carefully,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Newsroom.”
The comments from Fauci, who said the task force will be discussing the potential recommendation on Tuesday, come a day after President Donald Trump said he could foresee a scenario where all Americans are recommended to wear masks in public to curb the spread of the virus.
The idea runs counter to the current government directive that masks aren’t necessary for most people. A source close to the coronavirus task force told CNN on Monday that part of the issue with the possible recommendation is the current supply of masks would not meet the ongoing demand.
While speaking with Dr. Sanjay Gupta during a taping of CNN’s “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” podcast to be released in full on Wednesday, Fauci signaled he would “lean toward” recommending that the general public wear facemasks “if we do not have the problem of taking away masks from the health care workers who need them.”
“Particularly now that we’re getting some inklings that there’s transmission of infection from an asymptomatic person who is not coughing, who is not sneezing, who just appears well. Well, then how do you think that’s happening?” Fauci said.
“It very well could be aerosol. Maybe not aerosol, you know, that goes on for hours,” he said. “But even the slight aerosol in which you’re talking to somebody. If that’s the case, we should at least look at the data and try to make a decision about that.”
Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Trump emphasized that he wanted the masks being produced to go to hospitals that need them, but said that Americans “can wear scarves” as an alternative.
“You know, you can use a scarf. A lot of people have scarfs, and you can use a scarf. A scarf would be very good. My feeling is if people want to do it, there’s certainly no harm to it,” the President said.
“I would say do it, but use a scarf if you want, rather than going out and getting a mask or whatever, we’re making millions and millions of masks.”
He added that “eventually you’re not going to want to do that” and “you’re not going to have to do that” once the outbreak is under control.
Despite a lack of conclusive evidence that masks prevent transmission of respiratory diseases, some experts have argued that non-medical fabric masks might make a dent in transmission risk.
“Something doesn’t have to be 100% effective to be beneficial,” Fauci said.
Throughout the pandemic thus far, the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised against the general public’s use of masks unless they are already sick.
Public health officials and medical professional had for weeks been urging healthy people to not stockpile the masks, which are now in short supply at some hospitals.
As of Tuesday morning, there are at least 162,000 known cases of the novel coronavirus in the US and more than 3,000 people have died, according to CNN’s tally.
CNN’s Jason Hoffman, Jacqueline Howard, Jim Acosta, Kevin Liptak and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.