Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Tuesday that masks are an “instrument of freedom” that can contain the coronavirus and bring back football and school dances.
“If you want the return of college football this year, wear a face covering. If you want a chance at prom next spring, wear a face covering,” Adams said at a press conference with Vice President Mike Pence.
Adams sought to reframe perceptions of masks as infections rise in the South, Arizona and California — threatening the reopening of local economies. Many senior Republicans are now asking people to wear masks.
“Please, please, please, wear a face covering when you go out in public. It is not an inconvenience. It is not a suppression of your freedom,” Adams said. “This mask, this face-covering actually is an instrument of freedom for Americans, if we all use it.”
It’s the latest evolution in messaging from Adams and other US health officials, who discouraged mask-wearing early this year when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Adams implored people not to buy masks in late February, writing they were “NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus.” East Asian countries, by contrast, credit early universal mask-wearing with limiting outbreaks. Taiwan, which has a larger population than New York, has had fewer than 450 cases.
US officials later recommended wearing masks, citing evidence of significant asymptomatic transmission of the coronavirus — but still insisted there was no evidence masks protected people from contracting the virus.
White House coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci updated that stance last week, testifying to Congress that masks are effective at both limiting the spread of the virus and protecting people from catching it.
“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.
COVID-19 has infected almost 2.7 million Americans and killed about 130,000 since March. The US hit its highest daily count of new cases last week, but officials note daily deaths dropped dramatically.