For weeks, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other health officials have asked Americans not to buy face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but several renowned health experts have accused Adams of misleading the public.
On February 29, just as infections were starting to rise in the U.S, Adams tweeted that Americans should stop buying face masks, saying they do not help prevent the spread of the virus. (RELATED: Bill De Blasio Asks Trump To Deploy Military To Help Fight Coronavirus)
“They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk,” Adams said at the time.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Other health officials, including the World Health Organization (WHO) have also said that people should not wear masks unless they have symptoms, which appears to contradict other public health advice they’ve given. First off, many coronavirus patients, including Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, are asymptomatic after they contract the virus. Secondly, if masks do not prevent the spread of the virus, then why is there a frenzy to bring in more masks for doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who are also presumably asymptomatic?
Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, a Turkish professor of information science, wondered the same thing in a New York Times op-ed published last week.
“First, many health experts, including the surgeon general of the United States, told the public simultaneously that masks weren’t necessary for protecting the general public and that health care workers needed the dwindling supply,” Tufekci wrote. “This contradiction confuses an ordinary listener. How do these masks magically protect the wearers only and only if they work in a particular field?”
Tufekci argues that the contradictory message being sent by national and international health officials has “encouraged” more hoarding of masks and other essential items.
“The message became counterproductive and may have encouraged even more hoarding because it seemed as though authorities were shaping the message around managing the scarcity rather than confronting the reality of the situation,” she wrote.
Tufekci wasn’t the only person to notice these contradictory messages being echoed by leading health officials. Shan Shoe-Lin, a managing director at Pharos Global Health Advisors and Robert Hecht, the president of Pharos Global Health Advisors, also noted that something within the messages didn’t add up. Shoe-Lin and Hecht wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe last week, where they stated that the guidance against wearing masks is wrong. They write that Americans should buy and wear masks, arguing that “If you can successfully block access to your nose, throat, and eyes, you will avoid infection by the coronavirus, flu, and any of several hundred other respiratory viruses.”
“Masks are the best way to enforce the ‘do not touch your face’ mantra we are hearing about for COVID-19,” Shoe-Lin and Hecht wrote.
“Let’s get real — we’re not going to be able to instantly stop doing something we’ve been doing our whole lives,” they continued. “So what’s the answer? Cover your face with a mask. This will deny you access to your own face and make you conscious of how often you are tempted to touch your nose and mouth.”
The contradictory messages being pushed by government officials such as Adams combined with rebukes from health experts like Shoe-Lin and Hecht are likely to fuel more mistrust in the nation’s leadership at a time when they are asking Americans to shut down their lives and crater the economy. (RELATED: Stock Market Suffers Worst Drop Since 2011 Amid Coronavirus Fears, Oil Dispute)
“Remember when the US Surgeon General was telling the population that masks were ineffective?” Conservative author J.D. Vance tweeted Tuesday. “I wonder why people mistrust our leadership and experts.”
Remember when the US Surgeon General was telling the population that masks were ineffective? I wonder why people mistrust our leadership and experts. https://t.co/afKbD80zy2
— J.D. Vance (@JDVance1) March 23, 2020
Many Americans are already getting restless over the economic shutdown, with unemployment claims surging and businesses being forced to close, perhaps for good. Accusations that the federal government deliberately misled the American people on essential items related to fighting the virus only serves to undermine the confidence Americans have in the people leading the response to this global pandemic.