An outdated video clip of Dr. Anthony Fauci is circulating on social media — giving the false impression he is currently advising the public not to wear face masks. Fauci, like other health officials, recommends wearing a cloth face covering when distances of at least six feet can’t be maintained.
On April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its earlier position on the use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and announced that it was now recommending that people should wear face coverings in public, citing new studies on the transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (‘asymptomatic’) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (‘pre-symptomatic’) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” the CDC said in its announcement. “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
Despite the new guidance, dubious Facebook pages and groups — some of which advocate alternative medicines, conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination messages — have been recently circulating an outdated recommendation on the use of face masks. The pages are sharing a March 8 video clip from CBS’ “60 Minutes” showing Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, saying: “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.”
But at that point in early March, the CDC recommended conserving face masks, which were in short supply, for health care workers and those who had COVID-19 and were showing symptoms. So, Fauci gave an answer that was in line with CDC recommendations at that time.
Here’s what Fauci told Dr. Jon LaPook, chief medical correspondent for CBS News, in the clip circulating on social media:
LaPook, March 8: There’s a lot of confusion among people, and misinformation, surrounding face masks. Can you discuss that?
Fauci: The masks are important for someone who’s infected to prevent them from infecting someone else… Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.
LaPook: You’re sure of it? Because people are listening really closely to this.
Fauci: …There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask. When you’re in the middle of an outbreak, wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better and it might even block a droplet, but it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is. And, often, there are unintended consequences — people keep fiddling with the mask and they keep touching their face.
LaPook: And can you get some schmutz, sort of staying inside there?
Fauci: Of course, of course. But, when you think masks, you should think of health care providers needing them and people who are ill. The people who, when you look at the films of foreign countries and you see 85% of the people wearing masks — that’s fine, that’s fine. I’m not against it. If you want to do it, that’s fine.
LaPook: But it can lead to a shortage of masks?
Fauci: Exactly, that’s the point. It could lead to a shortage of masks for the people who really need it.
Since then, the science around the novel coronavirus has evolved, Dr. Dean Winslow, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, explained in an interview with FactCheck.org.
In early March, so few patients had been tested that public health officials didn’t yet know that people could spread the virus without showing symptoms, said Winslow.
“That was just not known at that point,” he said.
Winslow noted that Fauci appeared to be making two points in the interview. He was pushing back on the idea that a mask could protect the wearer from infection, and he was emphasizing the importance of other measures, such as maintaining a distance of at least six feet between people.
In appearances aired on PBS NewsHour on April 3 and May 12, Fauci again noted the importance of physical distancing and, in line with the evolving public health recommendations, added that cloth face coverings should be used in public.
But the Facebook pages didn’t share the more up-to-date interviews. Instead, they shared the old interview without noting the date.
For example, a Facebook page that supports the widely debunked conspiracy-theory video, “Plandemic,” shared the old clip on May 6 with the caption, “Dr. Anthony Fauci: ‘There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask.’” That’s the opposite of the advice Fauci was giving by that time.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission. 3 Apr 2020.
60 Minutes. “March 2020: Dr. Anthony Fauci talks with Dr Jon LaPook about Covid-19.” YouTube.com. 8 Mar 2020.
Winslow, Dean. Infectious disease physician, Stanford Health Care. Telephone interview with FactCheck.org. 15 May 2020.
McDonald, Jessica. “COVID-19 Face Mask Advice, Explained.” FactCheck.org. 6 Apr 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Social Distancing. Accessed 18 May 2020.
Woodruff, Judy, et al. “What Dr. Fauci wants you to know about face masks and staying home as virus spreads.” PBS NewsHour. 3 Apr 2020.