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CDC, WHO clash on effectiveness of masks in preventing spread of COVID-19

The CDC suggests that “everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes, regardless of whether they have fever or symptoms of COVID-19.”

RENTON, Wash. — Warm weather and weeks of social distancing brought people out of their homes on Saturday and into parks across Western Washington.

At Gene Coulon Park in Renton, the walking path was bustling with people and many boaters waited their turn to use the launch.

Also on display were a few facial coverings, as the majority of people skipped masks, despite CDC guidance that “everyone wear cloth face coverings when leaving their homes, regardless of whether they have fever or symptoms of COVID-19.”

Jonah Anderson also noticed few masks at Gene Coulon Park and many people getting close together. It worried him, as he looked for a place to dip his feet in the water while keeping his distance from others.

“Me and my friend were hesitant to come out here because we knew there would be a lot of people, but I assumed people would be separate from each other and protecting themselves a little bit more, but I’m not seeing that,” he said.

The lack of coverings also illustrates a debate in the U.S. right now – to mask or not to mask. 

The CDC touts face coverings in public as a way to stop carriers without symptoms from spreading coronavirus. But some vocal objectors see any requirement to mask up as a step on their personal freedoms, as protests continue for states to reopen.

Costco announced it would require masks for all shoppers this week, and several airlines have said customers will be required to wear coverings.

There have also been a handful of reports across the country of altercations or violence directed at workers trying to enforce customer mask policies.

But differences exist:  the World Health Organization diverges from the CDC, writing, “Currently there is not enough evidence for or against the use of masks (medical or other) for healthy individuals in the wider community. WHO continues to recommend that medical masks be worn by individuals who are sick or those caring for them. WHO is actively studying the rapidly evolving science on masks and continuously updates its guidance."

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"In the interim, to support countries in their decision-making process WHO has provided advice through a risk-based approach for the use of masks in the context of COVID-19," WHO writes.

Adding to the conversation is new findings from an international study reported in Vanity Fair. Researchers used a modeling simulation and found “If 80% of a closed population were to don a mask, COVID-19 infection rates would statistically drop to approximately one-twelfth the number of infections—compared to a live-virus population in which no one wore masks.”

Researchers also believe high mask adoption is especially effective before day 50 of an outbreak– well below anecdotal observations around the Seattle area.

“Masks are a mix,” said Steve Baker, who was out playing catch with his son. “Some days you’ll see most people with masks, some days you see very few people with masks. Today, general observation seems to be about 20% or so, but everyone is in little clusters as far as people.”

As for how this adoption will impact the spread of coronavirus as states loosen restrictions – time will tell.

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