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Nov. 12, 2020, 11:14 p.m. EST

CDC now says face masks protect the wearer — and the economy

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By Mike Murphy

Wearing a face mask doesn’t just protect others from catching the coronavirus — it protects the wearer too, and even the economy, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday, in its most explicit endorsement yet of masks.

In a scientific brief published Tuesday , the CDC said that while “masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets,” they “also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer.”

“Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC said. “The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and personal protection for the mask wearer. … Individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use.”

In other words, the more people who wear masks in a community, the less the virus will spread.

The CDC also noted an economic benefit, reporting an analysis using U.S. data found that “increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion, or about 5% of gross domestic product.”

Previously, in a July brief, the CDC had been more tentative in its mask-wearing recommendation, saying masks were mostly effective for stopping those with COVID-19 from spreading it to others.

In its Tuesday report, the CDC said seven studies have “confirmed the benefit” of universal masking to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets,” it said.

While many in the Trump administration — including the president himself — have questioned the effectiveness of masks, public-health experts have long urged their use. President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to push for a nationwide mask mandate after taking office.

The new CDC findings come as the pandemic is worsening in much of the country. More than 1 million new coronavirus cases have been confirmed so far this month, with daily infections running more than 100,000 a day. To date, the U.S. has recorded more than 10.2 million coronavirus cases, and nearly 240,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data , both the most in the world.

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