Dr. Deborah Birx Says Everyone Needs to Wear a Mask at Social Gatherings

Dr. Deborah Birx recommended that everybody wear a face mask at social gatherings to protect themselves and others while the novel coronavirus is still present in their community.

President Donald Trump's coronavirus response coordinator said on Fox News Tuesday it is important for everyone to wear a mask because asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19—the disease caused by the new coronavirus—could unwittingly put others at risk.

"We know that talking, singing, certainly sneezing and coughing can pass the virus on to others. Because you can pass it when you're asymptomatic, people don't know that they're infected," Dr. Birx said.

"If everybody wears a face mask, then you're protecting the other person because it's really having the asymptomatic individuals wearing masks.

"But since you don't know if you're one of those, really everyone needs to in those kinds of social gathering situations, as long as there's still virus in the community."

She told the Fox & Friends show the expanded rollout of ventilators and coronavirus tests would need to "accelerate" before the fall.

Dr. Birx was also asked about her view of the daily White House coronavirus briefings and said they are "critical" for the American public.

"I think it's really important that people know the federal government is collecting data every day and doing everything they can to respond to this epidemic, and then passing on insights across the country," she said.

"Each state is seeing something different and has a different best practice, and our job is to ensure that through the governors call and those press conferences that we are actually able to communicate key new findings and new insights."

The health official said she would be looking closely at how the novel coronavirus develops in Southern Hemisphere countries such as Australia and Argentina because their fall coincides with the American summer.

Typically, northern hemisphere respiratory diseases move south during the summer.

"Those two pieces together will really define how we do in the fall. Our job right now and our job in the White House [is] to ensure that we are ready for anything that happens in the fall," she said.

"Whether it's testing, whether it's PPE, whether it's ventilators, whether it's a complete surveillance system that understands that we have to track for asymptomatics as well as symptomatic individuals.

"All of those pieces need to accelerate and expand to be ready for the fall."

Dr. Birx told Americans to wear face masks while COVID-19 was still present in the community on the same day that Vice President Mike Pence appeared at a hospital without wearing a protective face mask.

Pence, who is head of the White House coronavirus task force, was pictured standing near a group of people at a Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Tuesday while others around him wore face masks.

His action appeared to contradict the Mayo Clinic policy, which requires "all patients, visitors, and staff to wear a face-covering or mask" at its clinics to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

"Mayo Clinic had informed @VP of the masking policy prior to his arrival today," the company tweeted later on Tuesday.

Explaining his decision not to wear a mask after his Mayo Clinic visit, Pence said: "As Vice President of the United States I'm tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone around me is tested for the coronavirus.

"And since I don't have the coronavirus, I thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible healthcare personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you."

Dr. Deborah Birx at Coronavirus Briefing
Dr. Deborah Birx listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus on April 20, 2020. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.