New from CDC: Face masks should be worn in all indoor settings, except at home

Officials now advise ‘universal use of face masks’ amid US coronavirus surge

Graphic designer Chloe Vanhoecke, wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, works on Christmas decorations in a restaurant window in downtown Brussels, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. In Belgium, experts say wearing masks and practicing social distancing will be essential in containing the spreading of the virus when shopping returns to a sense of normalcy. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco) (Francisco Seco, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

With the coronavirus spreading rapidly throughout the country in recent weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that Americans wear face masks while in any indoor setting apart from their home -- and even sometimes then.

On Friday, Dec. 4 the CDC published in a weekly report updated guidelines that recommend “universal use of face masks” as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths climb across the nation at dangerous rates.

Read: Much of US experiencing ‘severe’ virus outbreaks amid ‘third COVID wave,’ researchers say

Individuals are now advised to wear a face mask at all times in indoor spaces outside of their home, and within their home if a resident is sick or has been exposed to the virus.

“Face mask use is most important in indoor spaces and outdoors when physical distance of 6 feet (or less) cannot be maintained,” the CDC’s report reads. “Within households, face masks should be used when a member of the household is infected or has had recent potential COVID-19 exposure (e.g., known close contact or potential exposure related to occupation, crowded public settings, travel, or nonhousehold members in your house).”

Face masks have been scientifically proven to prevent individuals infected with COVID-19 from spreading the virus, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic. CDC officials said Friday that, according to new estimates, approximately half of new COVID infections are being transmitted by people who have no symptoms, or are asymptomatic.

CDC officials say the wide use of face masks especially helps protect individuals at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, as well as workers who frequently come into close contact with other people (e.g., in airports, seaports or other docks, bus terminals, and train stations).

Read more: What the CDC says about face masks -- a refresher

The updated guidelines come amid recent research that shows face masks not only prevent a person from spreading COVID-19, but they also provide some protection to the wearer -- though to a lesser extent.

In light of the new guidelines, the CDC is encouraging state and local governments to “issue policies or directives mandating universal use of face masks in indoor (nonhousehold) settings,” and to provide face masks to populations in need to help prevent the spread of COVID.

Majority of the CDC’s previously-issued mask guidelines have not changed, however, including what types of masks to wear and how to wear them. The CDC still recommends that people do the following:

  • Wear masks with two or more layers to stop the spread of COVID-19
  • Wear the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Masks should be worn by people two years and older
  • Masks should NOT be worn by children younger than two, people who have trouble breathing, or people who cannot remove the mask without assistance
  • Do NOT wear masks intended for healthcare workers, for example, N95 respirators
The CDC dos and don’ts over selecting the proper face mask (CDC)

Click here for more face mask guidelines from the CDC.

COVID-19 spreading rapidly in U.S.

The U.S. is currently experiencing a surge in coronavirus spread, leading to high rates of new virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths unseen since the onset of the pandemic.

The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 hit an all-time high on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 100,667, according to the COVID Tracking Project. That figure has more than doubled over the past month, while new daily cases are averaging 210,000 and deaths are averaging 1,800 per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Health officials fear the situation will get worse before it gets better because of delayed effects from Thanksgiving, when millions of Americans disregarded warnings to stay home and celebrate only with members of their household.

Read: Data shows Americans couldn’t resist Thanksgiving travel

COVID-19 vaccine progress

Promising COVID-19 vaccines are nearing approval and distribution in the U.S. and the world. Drug companies Pfizer and Moderna have submitted requests to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorizations that would allow the vaccines to be distributed to the public. The FDA will review Pfizer’s request on Dec. 10 and Moderna’s on Dec. 17.

Because only so many vaccine doses will be available at one time, coronavirus vaccines will be administered in phases, beginning with individuals at higher risk for contracting and spreading the virus. Frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and workers have been identified as the first priority group to receive the vaccine in the U.S.

Even with a vaccine, a modeling group at the University of Washington said that if states do not act to bring current surges under control, the death toll could reach 770,000 by April 1. Nationwide, the coronavirus is blamed for almost 277,000 deaths and 14 million confirmed infections as of Dec. 4.

Until a vaccine becomes widely available, the CDC advises people to continue taking steps to prevent virus spread, such as frequent hand washing, avoiding crowds, maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between others and cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces.

Related: FDA Vaccine Advisory chair answers questions about COVID vaccine

CDC updates guidelines for quarantining after COVID exposure

The CDC also recently issued updated guidelines regarding self-quarantining following exposure to the coronavirus.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the CDC has recommended that individuals who have been exposed to the coronavirus should self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms for 14 days. Based on recent data, the CDC is now recommending that individuals can end their self-quarantine 10 days after being exposed to the virus, so long as they have no developed any symptoms.

Based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 cases, experts found that 99 percent of cases will become infectious or develop symptoms within 10 days of exposure, according to the CDC. Still, Michigan health officials say that a 14-day quarantine is still the “golden standard” and is the safest way to know whether or not someone has been infected.

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About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.