Should everyone wear a mask? Not necessarily

It’s complicated, but this is certain: Lack of supply means there’s little chance N.J. would ever mandate usage

By Tom Bergeron
Trenton | Apr 2, 2020 at 3:34 pm
Editor’s Desk

The questions of the day at the daily coronavirus briefing Thursday all revolved around masks. Most specifically, would the state recommend everyone wear them — and is it considering making such a recommendation, as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti did Wednesday.

The answers: No. Or maybe. But not certainly.

Confused? Can’t blame you.

The first fact of the matter is this: There are not enough masks around to make such a recommendation.

Gov. Phil Murphy made that point very clear, saying health care workers and first responders — let alone retail workers, bus drivers and other essential employees — don’t have enough.

“It’s fair to say we’re not remotely close to being able to mask everybody,” he said.

But Murphy himself raised this question to Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and state epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan: If we had enough masks in a perfect world, would we recommend everyone use them?

Persichilli still said, “No,” but hedged her answer.

“If you have a mask at home that is cloth that someone made for you and it tightly fits around and you want to wear it, I would never tell somebody not to (wear it),” she said. “But I don’t think we would put out a recommendation that everybody mask.”

Persichilli said she gets more questions on masks than anything.

She also said masks are not necessarily being used to keep the individual wearing them safe.

“Masks are generally to protect people from you, not necessarily to protect you from what’s around you,” she said. “So, it doesn’t take the place of social distancing. It doesn’t take the place of staying home. The mask protects other individuals. There’s some level of protection … but, at the end of the day, it’s more to protect others.”

Tan agreed, saying she feared masks can offer a false sense of security.

On that, Murphy jumped back in.

“The problem is, you’ve seen folks with masks behaving that everything’s normal again,” he said.

In the past, state officials have said masks also create a risk because people — not used to wearing them — can infect themselves due to increased touching of the mask with germy hands.

Murphy — and Persichilli and Tan —all preached that social distancing was more effective than masking.

“Social distancing trumps the mask in a big way,” Murphy said.

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