The Mask Madness of Big Government

As Newsweek reports, people are sewing their own face masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus. Readers might wonder why something as simple as a face mask might be in short supply. As it turns out, such masks are strictly regulated.

The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must certify masks. The division of the CDC that certifies masks is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), not the same as OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

On March 2, the FDA allowed “certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respirators not currently regulated by the FDA to be used in a health care setting by health care personnel,” during the coronavirus outbreak, “thereby maximizing the number of respirators available to meet the needs of the U.S. health care system.” More than two weeks later, masks were still in short supply.

“In settings where facemasks are not available,” the CDC explains, health care personnel (HCP) “might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.” Still, homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE), “since their capability to protect HCP is unknown.” Homemade masks, the CDC explains, “should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”

Homemade masks would not be necessary if the CDC, with a budget of more than $6 billion, had a supply of masks readily available for mass distribution at the first sign of trouble. A federal agency tasked with disease “prevention” did not prevent the coronavirus outbreak, and judging by current conditions, the CDC fails to live up to the “control” part of its name.

In recent years, the CDC has been occupied with obesity, not strictly speaking a disease. Last December, the budget deal gave the CDC $25 million to study “gun violence,” which is not a disease either. That $25 million could supply many surgical masks to the public.

The problem with the CDC is not a lack of funding but bureaucratic ineptitude, an unhealthy condition at all times but particularly now, when the dearth of proper masks forces people to make their own. So as the CDC says, if you do sew up your own mask, remember to use a shield that extends below the chin and covers both sides of the face.

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K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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