During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization recommended that health care workers and people showing symptoms of the virus should wear face masks. Fast forward to today, where masks are recommended in all public areas and some parts of the country are making them mandatory.

Why the big change? It all comes down to the evolution of science.

“COVID-19 came into our world very quickly and was new in so many ways,” said Dr. James Levin, SSM Health infectious disease physician. “Earlier this year, health experts were basing their recommendations on the best evidence available at the time. That evidence has evolved, which is why the recommendations have expanded.”

Levin said this does not give fuel to some arguments that seek to downgrade the credibility of health experts.

“We can all agree that smoking is detrimental to a person’s health, but decades ago, many doctors were seen promoting cigarettes in advertisements and smoking themselves,” he said. “It takes time to learn about certain health issues, and that’s OK. For cigarettes, it took many years. With COVID-19, mask recommendations only took weeks.”

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams acknowledged that the government’s guidance on masks has been confusing at times. But one thing is clear now – they help slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Cloth face coverings offer a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air,” Levin said. “Those respiratory droplets from infected people have played a large role in the spread of the virus, so this is one easy way we can all get through this pandemic together.”

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