You head outside for a run. Your son works as a cashier at the grocery store. You need to take a trip to the pharmacy. You wonder, is a mask necessary?
The messaging surrounding mask usage to prevent coronavirus has been confusing from the get-go. Back in February the U.S. Surgeon General tweeted that masks could not prevent further transmission in an effort to prevent shortages for healthcare workers.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Now, as of yesterday, April 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering recommending everyone, even those who are healthy, to wear a mask when outside the home to protect themselves. According to The New York Times, the director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, confirmed the agency was reviewing its guidelines in an interview with WABE in Atlanta.
Citing new data that shows high rates of transmission from people who are infected but show no symptoms, he said the guidance on mask wearing was “being critically re-reviewed, to see if there’s potential additional value for individuals that are infected or individuals that may be asymptomatically infected."
It's very difficult for communicators, particularly in the health care industry, to distribute necessary information to a questioning public when the staples of government information cannot seem to agree on the right path to take. Particularly during a new and untested virus. A flood of doctors are appearing on network and cable news talk shows, dispensing conflicting information, because the tried and tested data is just not yet there. For communicators, handling factual ambiguity can be a true challenge.
Just the Facts
In light of this confusion, it seems like a good time to acknowledge that today (April 2) is National Fact-checking Day. Within a health care crisis, proven, factual information is needed more than ever. And many news outlets are doing their part to take these critical statements and discover what classifies as truth, and what needs to be forgotten. For public relations professionals, checking and double-checking their facts with trusted experts, before sending out information to users or constituents, is a good practice to follow.
A good resource to follow includes The Poynter Institute's website called Politifact. Politifact holds talking heads accountable by grading quotes in television interviews and news articles, as well as social media posts on a scale from "True" to "Half True" to "Pants on Fire." This can help when trying to wade through the sea of information emerging on coronavirus.
CNN also employs a fact-checking team for a series called "Facts First" which analyzes press conferences, briefings and interviews of elected officials and candidates. The most recent article shows President Trump's misleading claims regarding the ventilator shortage.
So...About those masks?
We, at PRNEWS, are not a trustworthy medical institution, so we have about the same amount of information as you regarding mask usage. Our advice is to continue to monitor statements from the CDC, and to disburse information directly from that source.
The current CDC guidelines say:
“If you are sick: You should wear a face mask, if available, when you are around other people (including before you enter a health care provider’s office). If you are caring for others: If the person who is sick is not able to wear a face mask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then as their caregiver, you should wear a face mask when in the same room with them. Visitors, other than caregivers, are not recommended.
“Note: During a public health emergency, face masks may be reserved for health care workers. You may need to improvise a face mask using a scarf or bandana.”
Stay well, and always check your facts.
This article is part of PRNEWS' daily COVID-19 coverage, click here to see the latest updates.