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07.10.2020 US & Canada

US’s Center for Disease Control rejects French MP’s claim face masks don’t work

By Mike Woods - RFI
LISTEN OCT 7, 2020

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) health agency in the United States has clarified its position on airborne coronavirus transmission days after a French MP claimed in parliament the agency had taken a position that implied face masks were not an effective way to stop the spread of Covid-19.

French MP Martine Wonner, who represents a district near the city of Strasbourg, claimed on Friday the Center for Disease Control (CDC) health agency in the United States had effectively ruled out airborne spread and the effectiveness of face masks in regard to Covid-19.

“I'd like to end with a scoop that just came out: the Center for Disease Control just recognised its errors,” said Wonner as she concluded a short intervention in the National Assembly, where she sits with a small group of independent lawmakers after being excluded from President Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move party for opposing confinement.

“The mask achieves absolutely nothing, ladies and gentlemen,” she continued, claiming the CDC “just took measures to explain the virus spreads by hands and that it has never been proven to be airborne.”

Her remarks were relayed on social media among users critical of the French government's imposing of confinement, mandatory masks and overall handling of the Covid epidemic.

However, the CDC never claimed what Wonner said it had, and on an updated information page about the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19, the agency contradicted her claims about its position on airborne spread.

“There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with Covid-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet [about 1.8 metres] away,” the updated page read. “These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation.”

Communication error
The fact-checking service of French newspaper Le Monde suggested Wonner's interpretation of the CDC's messaging followed an unusual communication incident in mid-September.

The CDC posted information on 20 September reading “airborne viruses, including Covid-19, are among the most contagious and easily spread,” but removed the page the following day, explaining the page was a draft that had been posted early by mistake.

“CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” according to a note published 21 September.

“This was an error on the part of our agency and I apologise on behalf of the CDC,” John Brooks of the agency's Covid response team, told health officials in remarks cited by Politico.

Although the CDC did not actually contest the hypothesis of airborne spread, Wonner appeared to have interpreted it as such.

“The MP interpreted this reversal as a disavowal of the thesis of airborne spread and therefore as proof of the ineffectiveness of masks,” wrote Le Monde, for which Wonner's remarks were to be read as “a mistake or as false information”.

Masks not in doubt
The CDC never contested the possibility that the virus causing Covid-19 was airborne, though it has been cautious about its position on the hypothesis of airborne spread, which despite wide consensus has not been formally proven.

“Short-range inhalation of aerosols is a possibility for Covid-19, as with many respiratory pathogens. However, this cannot easily be distinguished from 'droplet' transmission based on epidemiologic patterns,” another page on the agency's website read.

The agency has never withdrawn its recommended to wear a face mask and reiterated the recommendation on Monday.

Some scientists doubt the effectiveness of wearing a face mask outdoors, but there is little doubt they are effective in stopping the spread of Covid-19 in interior spaces.

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