Trump admin will soon announce: It's time to mask up, America

A good call. It’s late, but you know America’s motto when it comes to coronavirus. From testing to travel bans to lockdowns to ventilators: Better late than never.

I’m gonna get me one of those neck gaiters with a print of a skeleton jaw that pulls up around the nose and mouth. If we’ve got to cover up when we go outside to walk with death, might as well look the part.

I made the case for masks a few days ago in this post. The official recommendation may come today or tomorrow, but it’s coming.

White House coronavirus task force officials have been considering whether to recommend that face coverings be routinely worn in public because of increasing evidence that infected people without symptoms can spread the virus, according to internal memos and new guidance provided to the White House by the CDC…

The recommendations represent a major change in official CDC guidance that healthy people don’t need masks or face coverings. The memos and guidance make clear the coverings under discussion are not medical masks, such as N95 respirators or surgical face masks, which are needed by front-line health-care workers and are in extremely short supply. Those must continue to be reserved for health-care workers and other first responders, they say…

Simple cloth masks that cover the mouth and nose can prevent virus transmission from individuals who are infected but have no symptoms when they are out buying groceries, the guidance states. It makes clear the cloth covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but to prevent the spread of the virus from the wearer to others.

Those are the two essential points to communicate. There’s lots of heavy breathing about how masks are foreign to American culture, which is true, but I think the culture will adapt quickly as masks become quasi-mandatory and then de rigueur. We’ll all feel weird the first time or two we put one on and then it’ll quickly become a “fine, I guess we’re doing this until further notice” thing. The main obstacle to wearing them, I suspect, is the sense that the mask is a symbol of fear. No one wants to walk around signaling that they’re afraid. That’s why the point about protection is so important: The mask isn’t for the benefit of the wearer, because he fears infection, but for the benefit of those around him.

The other point, that asymptomatic people are transmitting this virus, is also key since, er, even some governors seemed to have grasped it only recently. The more people understand that the appearance of health (or a negative test) is no assurance that someone you’re with is uninfected, the more precautions they’ll take. The White House was told last night that mere breathing in close quarters is enough to transmit the virus via aerosolized droplets. A mask is the only defense in a situation like that.

Three doctors writing today for the Times offered these numbers in support of a national mask policy:

Scientists are not completely sure of all the ways that the Covid-19 virus is transmitted, but in a randomized control trial, participants who were told to use a surgical mask, and did so, were 80 percent less likely to contract respiratory illness

Even if masks don’t completely protect each individual, they could considerably reduce the spread of the virus. Even if the coverings only reduced transmission to and from each wearer by half, that would reduce the chance of spread by 75 percent. So face coverings could reduce the exponential growth of new infections and avert disaster in America’s hot spots.

Because scientists cannot rule out with complete confidence that this coronavirus can be spread easily in the air, even outdoors, we believe it’s most prudent to promote face covering in all public settings. And to state the obvious, mask wearing and face covering is not a substitute for shelter-in-place, hand-washing and other protective measures.

We’ll hear that last point hammered a bunch once Trump and Fauci start rolling this out. That’s been the big fear holding back a formal recommendation, that some idiots will treat mask-wearing as a license to give up on social distancing. Probably 80 percent of the rhetorical energy the feds will spend on this subject, I’m guessing, will be spent on emphasizing that one isn’t a substitute for the other. They’re a package deal; masks are a force multiplier.

Trump’s daily briefing has already begun as I write this at 5:40 p.m. ET. I’ll update if he comments about masks. In the meantime, here’s a company that claims to have used a 3-D printer to make an effective and reusable face mask. I have no idea if that’s true but it’s a neat concept.