SAN ANTONIO — The Centers for Disease Control on Friday announced new guidelines for Americans, recommending that they cover their faces in public settings where social distancing is difficult to practice.
The new recommendations are a change of course from what health leaders initially recommended. Previously, they said masks were only necessary for health care workers and people who are sick. So what changed? Well, what changed is that medical experts now believe that, even if you feel fine, you could still be infecting people.
"So many people are asymptomatic and they have COVID-19 and they are shedding that virus on other individuals," said Tommye Austin, chief nurse executive for University Health Systems.
We've been practicing social distancing for the past several weeks, with people encouraged to keep six feet between themselves and others while cutting down on the organization of unnecessary large gatherings. Those guidelines were based on evidence that large droplets are the method of transmission for the virus, and that they can only go a certain distance.
But as we learn more about the virus, many researchers are saying that the six-feet rule may not be enough by itself, and that exhalations like coughs and sneezes can generate gaseous clouds that can travel over 25 feet.
So if you are talking to your neighbor from across the street and they cough or sneeze in your direction, research has shown it is possible the virus could travel all of the way to you if there is little to no wind.
Now, it is also believed that the virus can be released in the air by talking or breathing. That means if you are sick and release the virus into the air, the virus can linger, making it possible for somebody to inhale the virus if they walk through the same air hours later.
"That is why it's so important to cough into your sleeve or cough into a handkerchief and always wash your hands," Austin said. "That's the most important thing we can do is wash your hands and keep the six-feet social distancing."
She also says that if you're an adult wearing a mask in public and you're with your kids, they need to be wearing masks too.