Osterholm says cloth masks won't fully protect from coronavirus

It's more important to reserve surgical masks for health care workers

WCCO Radio Newsroom
April 04, 2020 - 7:26 am
Face masks by Cristina Kjos

Photos courtsey of Greg Kjos

NEW YORK (AP) — The Trump administration urged Americans to cover their faces in public in the continuing effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, while a former Minnesota state health officials pointed out how masks can be somewhat ineffective.

Dr. Michael Osterholm says in truth, regular masks, scarves, or other face protection won't make much difference.

"It's much more cosmetic," Osterholm told WCCO's Chad Hartman on Friday, pointing out nearly everyone in Hubei province in China was wearing masks for cultural reasons before the coronavirus outbreak began to grow.

"It didn't do anything to stop it," he said.

Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota

President Donald Trump announced new guidelines that call for everyone to wear makeshift face coverings such as T-shirts and bandannas when leaving the house, especially in areas hit hard by the pandemic, like New York. But the president said he had no intention of following the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s a recommendation, they recommend it,” Trump told reporters. “I just don’t want to wear one myself.”

The change comes amid concerns from health officials that those without symptoms can spread the virus, especially in places like grocery stores or pharmacies. Officials stressed that medical-grade masks should be reserved for health workers and others on the front lines of the pandemic, with critical equipment in short supply.

"If you want to wear a cloth mask, use it," said Osterholm. "Know that I don't believe, or none of my colleagues, that this is going to have a major positive impact. But whatever you do, please don't use a surgical mask. Don't go try to find them. Don't take them. We've got to save them for our health care workers."

Worldwide, confirmed infections rose past 1 million and deaths topped 58,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Experts say both numbers are seriously undercounted because of the lack of testing, mild cases that were missed and governments that are underplaying the crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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