The United States could get the coronavirus pandemic under control in one to two months if every American wore a mask, a top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said Tuesday.
"The time is now," Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said during an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association's Dr. Howard Bauchner. "I think if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control."
Both the CDC and the World Health Organization now recommend that people wear masks as a way to slow the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 13 million people worldwide and killed at least 574,600 as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
"I think we're being very clear now," Redfield said. "Now's the time to wear a mask."
Scientists say the virus can spread through respiratory droplets that pass when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Studies suggest the masks may serve as a helpful barrier to spreading infection.
Some researchers have suggested that the coronavirus could spread through aerosolized droplets, or particles that travel by air, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces. Last week, the WHO acknowledged that airborne transmission was possible mostly in closed spaces indoors, saying more research was needed to be certain. If the virus does spread by air in such environments, masks could prove more critical to preventing infection.
Earlier in the day, the CDC released a new study that said state leaders should consider requiring face coverings to reduce the spread of the virus. The study looked at two Missouri hair stylists who were infected with Covid-19 but didn't pass it on to their clients.
"With the potential for presymptomatic and asymptomatic transmission, widespread adoption of policies requiring face coverings in public settings should be considered to reduce the impact and magnitude of additional waves of COVID-19," the study published by the CDC said.
Some governors, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have issued requirements to wear face coverings in public or in certain environments when people are unable to practice social distancing. However, there's no U.S. nationwide mandate like in China and other countries. Not all states in the U.S. have issued mask mandates, and some with surging outbreaks, including Florida, have left it up to local cities and counties. That's left U.S. businesses to enforce face covering requirements on their own, as CNBC previously reported.
Last week, President Donald Trump criticized Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, and other federal health officials for not advising the broader public to wear masks earlier in the outbreak.
During an interview Thursday with Fox News' Sean Hannity, Trump said, "Dr. Fauci's a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes."
"They've been wrong about a lot of things, including face masks," he said. "Maybe they're wrong, maybe not. A lot of them said don't wear a mask, don't wear a mask. Now they're saying wear a mask. A lot of mistakes were made, a lot of mistakes."
On Saturday, Trump wore a mask in public for the first time while visiting Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Redfield said Tuesday that wearing a mask is not a political issue but a public health one. He said he was pleased to see Trump and Vice President Mike Pence wearing masks in public recently.