American mask policy

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American mask policy


The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

I realized how serious the “stress over masks” was in Korea after I received an email from readers. I had interviewed an American epidemic expert last month and wrote an article. I wrote about the reasons why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the public not wear masks to prevent Covid-19. Some readers firmly believed that the article was wrong.

I was embarrassed. It is a pity that anxiety in Korean society grew so much that they don’t believe an article written based on facts. I replied with a link for the CDC’s Covid-19 prevention guideline. The CDC’s recommendations for masks vary by groups. First, the general public who are not patients do not need to wear masks. Second, sick people need to wear masks when they are with other people. Third, those who care for the sick need to wear face masks. The same recommendations were given by the World Health Organization.

So why does the CDC give different recommendations? William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor and longtime adviser to the CDC, explained that the basis for people wearing face masks to prevent the disease was weak. It means that there are cases of contracting the virus even if you wear a mask and cases of not contracting the disease even without wearing a mask. As a result, the CDC cannot recommend wearing masks.

There is also the issue of priority. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said masks have no effect in coronavirus prevention for the public but that the entire community would be at risk if medical professionals couldn’t wear masks.

Infections have just begun to spread in the United States. The Covid-19 response task force in the White House — which includes the president, vice president and secretary of health — stressed that the general public does not need to wear masks.

I understand the anxiety that it would be better to wear a mask than not. There are some benefits. It could keep you from touching the nose and mouth, and it could help in an environment where keeping the recommended six-feet distance is not so easy as in a crowded bus,
I think the energy the Korean government and people are wasting over masks is excessive. When the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 is approaching, economic ministers are simply looking for masks. Standing in line for hours to buy masks raises risks. It is about time that the government and experts devise a plan. I don’t think science is different in the United States and Korea.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 13, Page 28
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