Could state switch to endorsing face masks to help contain COVID-19?

  • Travelers wear protective mask as they walk through Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport March 1.

    Travelers wear protective mask as they walk through Terminal 5 at O'Hare International Airport March 1. Associated Press

Updated 4/1/2020 5:15 PM

For weeks, state officials have encouraged people to avoid wearing face masks and leave them to medical workers and first responders on the front lines fighting the spread of COVID-19.

But Wednesday, Gov. J.B Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said they would look to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for guidance on the issue.


The CDC now is considering recommending Americans wear masks as protection against infection from the respiratory disease. That contrasts with health officials' advice since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak that masks would not protect the general public.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Twitter Feb. 29: "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!"

Pritzker reflected a new attitude on the issue during his daily briefing Wednesday.

"I would not discourage people from wearing masks," he said. "... There is evidence to show it can be effective. We're constantly looking at things."

Ezike said respecting the state's stay-at-home order that extends through April 30, washing hands repeatedly and cleaning frequently used surfaces is crucial to containing COVID-19.

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But she noted, "The idea of wearing a mask is to keep droplets from spreading. ... That is logical and we want everyone to do the most they can to prevent potential infection."

As cases of the disease mount, more people have been spotted wearing masks in public.

Many individuals, however, might have to search hard if they tried to buy face masks in stores, many of which are out of stock of them.

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