De Blasio Says City Told Public Masks Unnecessary in order to Preserve Supply for Medical Workers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at an indoor training center at the USTA Billie Jean King United States Tennis Center, which will be partially converted into temporary hospital during the coronavirus outbreak in New York City, March 31, 2020. (Stefan Jeremiah/Reuters)

New York mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday said the city administration had initially recommended that residents not wear masks during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic out of concern that residents would buy up masks needed for healthcare workers.

De Blasio was asked during a Friday radio interview why the city initially told the public that medical masks would be ineffective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“The concern throughout was, we didn’t want a situation where people were taking supplies, surgical masks, N95’s away from the people who are doing the life-and-death work [and] who must be protected,” de Blasio said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

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“We did not want to create an artificial demand there,” de Blasio continued, “nor did we want to create a sense that if you had something over your face you didn’t need to practice social distancing, [or that] you didn’t need to shelter in place, which are much more important strategies.”

The mayor said New Yorkers were now encouraged to wear homemade masks or scarves over their mouths when going outside, because the measure could prevent asymptomatic patients or those with mild symptoms from spreading the disease.

On Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also voiced support for the use of cloth masks in public.

“Because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak, as opposed to coughing and sneezing, the better part of valor is that when you’re out, and you can’t maintain that six-foot distance [from another person], to wear some sort of facial covering,” Fauci told Fox News.

Public health officials at the federal level, as well as those representing international groups like the World Health Organization, initially discouraged the use of masks when the coronavirus became a point of significant public concern in February. Health officials from various states have begun to reverse the initial directives and the White House is expected to announce during a Friday press conference that the CDC has changed its guidelines regarding the efficacy of masks.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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