The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said face masks may do a better job at protecting against COVID-19 than a vaccine — contradicting prior comments from President Donald Trump about the importance of masks.
Dr. Robert Redfield said during a Senate hearing Wednesday that there is “clear scientific evidence” face masks work and that they’re “our best defense” against the virus.
“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine because the immunogenicity may be 70%, and if I don’t get an immune response the vaccine’s not going to protect me,” he said. “This face mask will.”
He also urged more Americans to wear face coverings to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have and I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings,” he said. “I’ve said it: If we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we’d bring this pandemic under control. “
His comments were in stark contrast with Trump’s comments about face masks from the night before.
The president said during an ABC News town hall that he wears a mask when he has to but that “a lot of people” don’t want to wear them and think they’re “not good.”
“There are a lot of people. If you look at Dr. (Anthony) Fauci’s original statement ... you look at a lot of people, CDC, you look at a lot of people’s original statement, they said very strongly, George, don’t wear masks,” he told George Stephanopoulos during the town hall. “Then all of a sudden they went to ‘wear masks.’”
At the beginning of the pandemic, health experts didn’t encourage the general public to wear face masks. But for several months now, health experts have urged everyone to wear a mask after data showed evidence of high rates of asymptomatic spread.
The president’s comments come after he received backlash earlier this week for holding an indoor rally in Nevada despite statewide orders that limit gathering sizes and require face masks. Many in the packed crowd were seen without masks in videos from the event.
The rally was held just days after recordings surfaced of the president admitting to journalist Bob Woodward that he downplayed the threat of COVID-19 as it began to spread in the United States. In the recordings, the president called the virus “deadly stuff” and more lethal than the flu. But he has publicly and repeatedly compared it to the flu to downplay the virus while arguing the country shouldn’t shut down in response.
He’s also said many times the virus will go away despite cases continuing to rise. The White House has defended the president’s comments, saying his goal was to avoid panic.
Dr. Redfield said no one at the CDC advised Trump to downplay the threat of the pandemic but said he wouldn’t comment on whether he agreed with the decision to do so.