face cloth scarf
Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Face Covering? No Face Mask? Why Seemingly Conflicting Information From Two Reliable Sources

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory earlier today, Friday, April 3, 2020 with the recommendation of covering your face with a simple cloth face covering — such as a scarf as one of many examples — in order to slow the spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States.

Face Covering? No Face Mask? Why Seemingly Conflicting Information From Two Reliable Sources

The new recommendation seems to conflict with information from the World Health Organization and add to the confusion which seems to prevail among millions of people as to what to do…

Desert Safari Egypt
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

…but before the distinction is clarified, this is the official advisory which was issued by the Centers for Disease Control in its entirety pertaining to its recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings — especially in areas of significant community-based transmission:

CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States.  We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.  In light of this new evidence, 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.

It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. CDC is additionally advising 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.

The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

This recommendation complements and does not replace the President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America, 30 Days to Slow the Spread, which remains the cornerstone of our national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. CDC will make additional recommendations as the evidence regarding appropriate public health measures continues to develop.

Is the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Airborne or Not?

The World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization have stressed via different media as late as Saturday, March 28, 2020 a fact check that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is NOT airborne — including this message through the official Twitter account of the World Health Organization…


…and the information is reiterated in its scientific brief titled Modes of transmission of virus causing COVID-19: implications for IPC precaution recommendations

…but the new information which has been referred countless times earlier today conflicts with those findings. “The debate began when researchers reported earlier this year in The New England Journal of Medicine that SARS-CoV-2 can float in aerosol droplets — less than 5 microns across — for up to 3 hours, and remain infectious”, according to this article pertaining to a new report as to how you may be able to spread coronavirus just by breathing written by Robert F. Service for Science. “Though current studies aren’t conclusive, ‘the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,’ Harvey Fineberg, who heads a standing committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, wrote in a 1 April letter to Kelvin Droegemeier, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.”

Furthermore, a study which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that liquid droplets from sneezes and coughs — and even simply exhaling — may be capable of traveling greater than 26 feet and linger in the air for minutes under the right conditions.

Despite the studies not being conclusive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to issue the aforementioned recommendation earlier today — and if you are a healthy human being, covering your face is purely optional.

Recommendation of the Use of Face Masks by the World Health Organization

If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with a suspected infection of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, according to this article from the World Health Organization. Masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent — and proper — washing and cleaning of hands with soap and water; or rubbing your hands with a product which includes alcohol as its base.

Otherwise, you do not need to wear a mask to stay healthy.

Rather, wearing a mask is more effective to prevent the spread of 2019 Novel Coronavirus to other people. Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly:

  • Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.
  • To remove the mask: remove it from behind — do not touch the front of mask; discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.


Photograph ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

Hopefully, a conclusion will be reached that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is not airborne, as was insisted by the World Health Organization — but debate still exists among the people who are most knowledgeable about 2019 Novel Coronavirus and other communicable microbes which cause disease, which only fuels the confusion among people as to what to do in terms of covering their faces.

Note the distinction between the recommendations of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization: the former recommends voluntary usage of a simple cloth to cover your face in order to prevent the spread of droplets which may contain the 2019 Novel Coronavirus to other people; while the latter advises against wearing face masks which health providers so desperately need but are in short supply.

Also, the new recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is meant to supplement and not replace other ways you can prevent yourself — and others — from contracting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases — including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for using a face mask.
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including 2019 Novel Coronavirus.
    • Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of 2019 Novel Coronavirus to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings — at home or in a health care facility.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.

In addition to the three videos pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus which have been released, the World Health Organization has a similar list of basic recommendations pertaining to protecting yourself from contracting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — including:

  • Clean your hands properly, regularly and thoroughly with soap and water — or use an alcohol-based hand rub when soap and water are not immediately available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you have just thoroughly washed your hands. Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus has a better chance of entering your body than at other areas of your body and can make you sick.

  • Maintain social distancing: stay at least one metre or three feet of distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. When someone coughs or sneezes, he or she sprays small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain a virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets — including the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — if the person coughing has the disease.
  • Practice responsible respiratory hygiene by ensuring that you — as well as the people around you — follow good respiratory hygiene because droplets spread viruses. By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu, and the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow; or use a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Once used, dispose of the tissue immediately in a proper receptacle.
  • Stay home if you do not feel well. If you have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention as soon as possible and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority. National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.

All photographs ©2015 and ©2020 by Brian Cohen.

This article is the latest in a series pertaining to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus — which is also known as COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV or SARS-CoV-2 — pandemic in an effort to get the facts out with information derived from reliable sources…

…as well as attempt to maintain a reasoned and sensible ongoing discussion towards how to resolve this pandemic.

Other articles at The Gate which pertain to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus include:

  1. Quite pleased with the research and apparent effort that went into this article. The onslaught of media has my head whirling and I appreciate your attempt to consolidate diverse information into a readable format.
    We are all doing the best we can these days. Thanks for doing your part to inform and educate your readers.

  2. Two reliable sources?
    Surely you’re joking about the W.H.O.?

    While they were espousing the talking points of the Chinese Communist Party about the Wuhan virus, they also provided them cover.

    The director general tried to appoint Mughabe to a position of authority. Better yet, he lied and down played cholera epidemics.

    Today, China joined the UN Human Rights Commission. Soon, we’ll start reporting on friends and family for violating the Stay in Place. Oh wait; that’s happening now.

  3. Very informative article!

    Personally I think if there was an endless supply of N95 masks they would say everybody should wear them (with the usual handling warnings). Unfortunately there is the opposite of and endless supply, so we need to make the best overall use of them. That means leaving them available for the most exposed (healthcare workers, etc.).

    In my opionion the mistake was instead of being honest about the situation the surgeon general and others said the N95 masks were not effective. I guess they felt if they said otherwise there would have been even more of a shortage, which could well be true. That was not, however, going to stop hoarders and price gougers on ebay and Amazon. The claim of them not being effective seemed just too counter-intuitive (helps them, but not me).

    I have two N95 masks left I had for workshop use. I’ve stayed put for two weeks and don’t feel it would be prudent to make a special trip out to donate these (40 minutes to the nearest hospital). When I go out I will wear one. I am 65, so I am in a higher risk group, I don’t sew and donl; have a scarf, so handmade is out of the question.

    It will be interesting what the FINAL determination is, but by then the worst will be over.

    I also wonder why I have seen NO mention of the P100 masks, From what I read those would be even more effective Maybe because they are more expensive and typically not a one piece disposable? Or even less fashion forward?


  4. really impressed with your thorough summary. What I don’t understand is many governments are ignoring the behavioral part in this situation. It is a fact that if everyone wears a mask properly (meaning following what they advise), then it should significantly drop the spread for Covid-19 because whether it is transmitted through air or by surface, masks will reduce the spread of the virus on surface or on air, plus people will not inhale or put it into their nose, eyes or mouth (if used appropriately). So given the uncertainty about how the virus transmits, wearing a mask properly is always better. What is more important is that more and more evidence seem to emerge that many infected people without any signs or during the incubation period can spread the virus, so telling only sick people to wear a mask is just absurd because many people do not know they are sick. Finally, this is the behavioral part, if the governments say only sick people wear a mask, many people will not wear masks even if you suspect something. Why? because people hate to be the one with virus when they are not certain.

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