White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci says he never told President Trump to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have not directly recommended to the president to wear a mask,” the infectious disease expert testified Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Fauci said, however, that masks are effective at both limiting spread of the virus and protecting people from contracting COVID-19 — a significant update in federal guidance on masks.
“Although we don’t know the exact percentage, we can say very clearly that wearing a mask is definitely helpful in preventing acquisition as well as transmission,” Fauci said.
“Everyone agrees in the public health sector that wearing of masks is beneficial,” he added. “Wear it and don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. It is always better to have a mask on than to not have a mask on, both for acquisition and for transmission.”
Fauci’s remarks deviate significantly from earlier statements from federal health officials, who originally said masks were useless to protect ordinary people from the coronavirus.
Early in the pandemic, Surgeon General Jerome Adams implored the public in a Feb. 29 tweet not to purchase masks because they “are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus.”
Officials later recommended masks, citing evidence of significant asymptomatic transmission of the virus — but still insisted there was no evidence masks protected people from contracting the virus.
“Once we saw that asymptomatic spread, we said, ‘Well, masks still aren’t effective from our point of view at preventing you from catching coronavirus in a significant way, but… you wear your mask to protect me,” Adams said at an April 22 White House press briefing.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, offered mask guidance in response to questioning from Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), who represents Albany.
Tonko repeatedly asked about President Trump’s aversion to wearing a mask. Fauci deftly avoided denouncing Trump, but said he personally wears a mask, in part, to set an example for the public.