April 9, 2020

CDC Recommends Use of Cloth Face Coverings During COVID-19 Pandemic

New guidance from CDC recommends that members of the public use cloth face coverings in public settings such as grocery stores where social distancing is difficult to implement. CDC’s recommendation was informed by mounting evidence of virus transmission by people who are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Recent reports from the agency on COVID-19 in Singapore, in a Seattle nursing home, and on the Diamond Princess cruise ship indicate that much of the transmission occurred among people who tested positive for the virus but were asymptomatic.

The guidance specifies that maintaining a distance of six feet between individuals, even those wearing coverings, is critical to slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. “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 guidance states.

CDC also released tutorials for making cloth face coverings using a sewing machine to stitch layers of fabric together as well as no-sew methods of adapting t-shirts or bandanas. A brief FAQ document on face coverings is also available on the agency’s website.

Some scientists who study respiratory protection have argued against the public’s use of cloth face masks. During a webinar held April 1 by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, retired professor Lisa M. Brosseau of the University of Illinois at Chicago stated that cloth masks will not stop transmission of SARS-CoV-2. In a commentary published by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, Brosseau and coauthor Margaret Sietsema argue that cloth masks are ineffective due to low filtering efficiency and poor fit. Brosseau and Sietsema also express concern that cloth masks could encourage the public to abandon social distancing.

“Leaving aside the fact that they are ineffective, telling the public to wear cloth or surgical masks could be interpreted by some to mean that people are safe to stop isolating at home,” the authors state. “It's too late now for anything but stopping as much person-to-person interaction as possible.”