Health & safety

The official word on wearing face masks in public

From time to time, we’ll publish excerpts from our new book Beat the Coronavirus here as a public service. Today we’ll publish an excerpt from Chapter 5.

What’s the deal with face masks? Here’s where things stand now. Federal health officials are advising people to wear cloth face masks anytime they leave their house. It’s a recommendation, not a law or order. The guidance states:

CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.1

For decades, face masks have been a standard part of daily life in many Asian countries during disease outbreaks, but it’s a ritual that’s foreign to most North Americans. That, too, is one of the jarring changes we’re seeing occur almost overnight as a result of the pandemic. The nightly news is now filled with pedestrians walking down city streets wearing masks, something we haven’t really seen in this country since the great flu pandemic of 1918-1919 (see Chapter 12 for more on the Spanish flu).

Here’s what you should know about face coverings.