Wearing a face mask alone is not adequate enough to protect an individual from coronavirus, the White House has said, emphasising that the strict enforcement of social distancing measures and other precautions are key in the fight against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The White House announcement came amidst an intense debate in the US on the necessity of wearing a face mask.

“Just remember, it (face mask) is not a substitute for everything that were asking people to do,” Deborah Brix from the White House Task Force on Coronavirus told reporters at a news conference on Thursday.

President Donald Trump has recommended that people who want to cover their mouths and noses could wear scarves instead of masks, which are desperately needed by health-care workers battling the surge of COVID-19 cases.

“I think they are going to be coming out with regulations on that and if people want to abide by them frankly I don’t think they will be mandatory because some people don’t want to do that, but if people want it as an example on the mask if people wanted to wear them they can,” he said.

“People wanted to use scarves which they have, and many people have them they can. In many cases the scarf is better, it is thicker,” Trump said without providing evidence.

Vice President Mike Pence said at a press briefing on Thursday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue new nationwide guidance “in the next several days” about wearing masks in public to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

“And just to everybody out there across the country, when we say no gatherings of 10, we’re looking at we wanted to be clear if you have a family of 10, we don’t want you to be split up. But we don’t expect people to be having dinner parties, cocktail parties,” Brix said.

“I know you’ve seen the slope in the United States versus the slope in Italy and we have to change that slope. We have to change the logarithmic curve that we are on. We see country after country having done that. What it means in the United States is not everyone is doing it,” she said.

The WHO and the US Surgeon General have talked about various studies that show that mask may not even be helpful in protecting people and may actually increase the rates of illness because people touch the mask then they touch themselves.

“We don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they are behind a mask, because if they are touching things -remember your eyes are not in the mask. So if you are touching things and then touching your eyes you are exposing yourself in the same way, so we don’t want people to feel like, oh, ‘I’m wearing a mask I’m protected and I’m protecting others’,” Brix said.

You may be protecting others, but don’t get a false sense of security that the mask is protecting you exclusively from getting infected because there are other ways that you can get infected because the number of asymptomatic and mild cases that are out there,” the White House official said.

“When we are trying to send a signal that every single person in this country needs to stay six point feet away from everybody, that needs to be washing their hands constantly and know where their hands are to send a signal that we think a mask is equivalent to those pieces,” she said.

“We want to make sure everybody understands it is not a substitute for the presidential guidelines that have already gone out and to be absolutely clear about that,” Brix said.

A total of 1,002,159 COVID-19 cases have been reported across more than 175 countries and territories with 51,485 deaths reported so far, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The US has reported 236,339 COVID-19 cases, the highest in the world, and over 5,000 people have died due to the disease.

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