Donald Trump
Donald Trump|IANS (File photo)

Trump advises use of non-medical masks as US COVID-19 toll crosses 7,000

Washington, April 3, 2020

United States President Donald Trump said on Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised the use of non-medical cloth face-covering as an additional voluntary public health measure to defend against the transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) as the number of deaths in the country from the pandemic crossed 7,000 and the total number of confirmed cases rose to 278,000.

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering of the John Hopkins University, which is tracking the spread of the pandemic in real time, has, in its latest figures, put the number of deaths due to COVID-19 in the US at 7,152 and the total number of cases in the country so far at 277,953. The US number of total cases is the highest in the world.

As many as 1,480 deaths were reported in the US in the past 24 hours -- the highest in a single day.

Worldwide, the pandemic has claimed more than 58,900 lives and affected more than a million people so far. The outbreak began in China in December and has spread to more than 200 countries, areas and territories around the world.

In the US, New York is the worst-hit with more than 1,870 deaths so far, while New Jersey and parts of Michigan and Louisiana are some of the other states badly affected.

"Today, ... the CDC is announcing additional steps Americans can take to defend against the transmission of the virus. From recent studies, we know that the transmission from individuals without symptoms is playing a more significant role in the spread of the virus than previously understood. So you don’t seem to have symptoms and it still gets transferred," Trump said at a press briefing at the White House, accompanied by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing

"In light of these studies, the CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure. So it’s voluntary; you don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time. But this is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it," he said.

Trump emphasized that the CDC is not recommending the use of medical-grade or surgical-grade masks, which should be used by medical personnel. "Medical protective gear must be reserved for the frontline healthcare workers who are performing those vital services," he pointed out.

He also said that insurance companies had announced that they would not require any co-pays from patients of the virus treatment for the next 60 days. He said hospitals and healthcare providers treating uninsured coronavirus patients will be reimbursed by the federal government using funds from the economic relief package Congress passed last month.

"This should alleviate any concern uninsured Americans may have about seeking the coronavirus treatment," he said.

Trump also said he was signing a directive invoking the Defense Production Act to prohibit export of scarce health and medical supplies "by unscrupulous actors and profiteers".

He provided details of the seizure by the authories of large numbers of respirators surgical masks, gloves, disinfectant sprays and so on which were being boarded. The seized material has been given to healthcare workers, he said.

He also spoke about the efforts being made to reach medical supplies and equipment to the different states, the expanded role of the armed forces in the response effort against the "invisible enemy", the economic relief package and other steps taken by the government.

"America is engaged in a historic battle to safeguard the lives of our citizens, our future society. Our greatest weapon is the discipline and determination of every citizen to stay at home and stay healthy for a long time. And we want them to stay healthy for a long time. So stay at home. This is ending. This will end. You’ll see some bad things and then you’re going to see some really good things. And it’s not going to be too long," he said.

"We will heal our citizens and we will care for our neighbors, and we will unleash the full might of the United States of America to vanquish the virus," he said.

Asked why he did not want to wear a mask himself, Trump said, "Well, I just don’t want to wear one myself. It’s a recommendation; they recommend it. I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing — I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk — the great Resolute Desk — I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just — I just don’t. Maybe I’ll change my mind, but this will pass and hopefully it’ll pass very quickly."

US Surgen General Jerome Adams said the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO), his office and most public health organizations and professionals had originally recommended against the general public wearing masks, because based on the best evidence available at the time, it was not deemed that that would have a significant impact on whether or not a healthy person wearing a mask would contract COVID-19.

"We have always recommended that symptomatic people wear a mask, because if you’re coughing, if you have a fever, if you’re symptomatic, you could transmit disease to other people.

"What has changed in our recommendation? Well, it’s important to know that we now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms. They’re what we call asymptomatic. And that even those who eventually become pre-symptomatic, meaning that they will develop symptoms in the future, can transmit the virus to others before they show symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity: for example, coughing, speaking, or sneezing, even if those people were not exhibiting symptoms.

"In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends and the task force recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. These include places like grocery stores and pharmacies. We especially recommend this in areas of significant community-based transmission. It is critical," he said.

"And the President mentioned this, the Vice President mentioned this: It’s critical to emphasize that maintaining six feet of social distancing remains key to slowing the spread of the virus.

"But CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth coverings to slow the spread of the virus and to help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others," he said.

"So, I want to say if you do choose to wear a face mask — very important — wash your hands first because you don’t want to put on a face covering with a dirty hand. Do not touch your face while you are wearing the face covering because, again, you could take materials from the surface, germs from the surface and bring it to your face," he said.

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