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The mask debate: CDC considers advising more to wear masks to prevent COVID-19

Posted at 6:39 PM, Mar 31, 2020

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DENVER -- Public opinion appears to be shifting on masks, after months of hearing from experts about how Americans don't need to wear them amid the coronavirus outbreak that guidance is starting to change.

More people are wearing masks in public as a precaution

Denver7 photographer Leah Schwartz is one of the people now choosing to wear a mask in public.

"I don't want to get sick, and I'm really worried about it," said Schwartz.

For her, it's about safety, but she said her decision to wear a mask had been met with backlash.

"I was bullied and harassed by an individual who followed me home from the gas station," she said. "He basically accused me of being uneducated, that I don't know what I'm doing. I wish people would be a little bit more sympathetic and understanding."

Katyaa lives in Denver and wears a surgical mask under a hiking buff every time she goes in public.

"I've had people make fun of me on the street. I've had people in my laundry room make fun of me. But I'm 30-years-old, and I'm immune-compromised, and this is how I have to leave the house now," she said.

Mixed messages on mask-wearing

During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, experts warned against the widespread use of face masks. The U.S. Surgeon General tweeted in February to "STOP BUYING MASKS" and "they are not effective in preventing the general public from catching #coronavirus."

But as the outbreak gets worse, that opinion is starting to change. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), once resistant to encouraging public use of masks, is now reportedly considering it.

"The idea of getting a much more broad communitywide use of masks outside of the health care setting is under very active discussion at the task force," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert. "Make sure we don't take away the supply of masks from the health care workers who need them. But once we get in a situation where we have enough masks, I believe there will be some very serious consideration about more broadening this recommendation of using masks."

Even President Donald Trump entertained the idea on Monday.

"We're not going to be wearing masks forever, but it could be for a short period of time," said Trump at a press briefing.

Critics of universal mask-wearing argue most people don't wear them right or it could lead to more face touching. Proponents counter that microbes caught in someone's mask would have otherwise been inhaled.

Local doctor worries about creating a false sense of security

"From a public standpoint, is there any harm or any potential that it would be helpful? Maybe," said Dr. Michelle Barron, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Barron said there is no data that shows people who wear masks at the grocery store are better protected, but there's also no data showing masks don't work for those purposes. Her biggest concern is that those who wear them may not take social distancing and other protective measures as seriously.

"I really do worry that for most people, it does give you a false sense of security," said Barron. " 'Oh, I'm wearing a mask,' so that I don't have to worry about hanging out with my neighbors or getting close to people that I'm not around or touching things and not really paying attention."

Other countries are making masks mandatory

The current federal guidance against wearing masks is also at odds with other parts of the word.

Austrian's chancellor recently made wearing masks in supermarkets mandatory. A town in Germany became the first to mandate everyone to cover their nose and mouth while in public.